We may never know precisely when or where or how the legend of the unicorn began. It pervades recorded time and may be dimly visible even in the clouds that hover just above history’s sunrise. The mystery of its origin… is one of the legend’s most evident charms…. We can best take up the tale of the unicorn at the point where it first emerges into the literature of the western world, early in the fourth century before Christ. ~Odell Shepard, “The Gorgeous East,” The Lore of the Unicorn, 1930
Only in recent years has the legend of the unicorn been turned over to avowed and professional dreamers; throughout the greater part of its history it has been shaped chiefly by practical men — hunters, physicians, explorers, and merchant-adventurers — who regarded mere poetry with the healthy contempt shown by Shakespeare’s Theseus. Yet the literary allusions to the animal are of course very numerous. ~Odell Shepard, “Shaping Fantasies,” The Lore of the Unicorn, 1930
Unicorns have always occupied a peculiar position in the opinion of the people as animals of good omen. There is an old legend, that a unicorn made its appearance at the birth of Confucius. The unicorn has been seen as a symbol of love for mankind. Unicorns have from a very early age been entrusted with the guardianship of tombs from unseen evil influences and the neutralisation of misfortune. ~J.J.M. de Groot, The Religious System of China, 1894 [A little altered.
A long time ago, when the Earth was green
There was more kinds of animals than you’ve ever seen
They’d run around free while the Earth was being born
And the loveliest of all was the unicorn…
~Shel Silverstein (1930–1999)