The legendary animal known as the unicorn was believed to have had the basic shape of a horse but with a long single pointed horn growing from its forehead. It was thought to be an extremely wild creature who lived in forests and dense woodlands, but also a symbol of purity. The name unicorn means 'one horn'.
The old stories of unicorns probably originated from very confused ideas of what a rhinoceros looked like even though that dangerous animal has only one horn on its nose. The unicorn was said to be very dangerous and savage but was perfectly calm and tame with virgins. The unicorn is not mentioned in ancient Greek legends but was referred to by Greek history writers who were convinced that they actually existed and that virgins were the only ones who could tame them. Anybody else threatened by a unicorn would have to stand by a tree and move away at the last minute so that its horn would become embedded in the tree's trunk.
The unicorn's horn, said to be made from a substance called alicorn, was said to be a cure for many illnesses and diseases, and also have amazing magical abilities. In particular, the horn was said to have the ability to detect poisons when used for drinking so it was favoured by kings and nobles or anyone who thought their drink may have been poisoned.
The unicorn was believed to be a proud beast which would rather die than be captured so this may be one reason why the unicorn was chosen as the symbol of Scotland. The Scots traditionally would always fight and resist invasion to remain unconquered.
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