Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Unicorn

"The Chinese unicorn is a sacred animal of portent. It ranks along with the dragon, the phoenix, and the tortoise as one of the Four Auspicious Creatures, and merits the highest status amongst the Three-Hundred-Sixty-Five Land Animals. Extremely gentle in temperament, it treads with such care that even the smallest living thing is unharmed, and eats no growing herbs but only withered grass. It lives a thousand years, and the visitation of a unicorn heralds the birth of a great sage. So we read that the mother of Confucius came upon a unicorn when she bore the philosopher in her womb:

Seventy years later, some hunters killed a qilin, which still had a bit of ribbon around its horn that Confucius' mother had tied there. Confucius went to look at the Unicorn and wept because he felt what the death of this innocent and mysterious animal foretold, and because in that ribbon lay his past.

The qilin appears again in Chinese history in the thirteenth century. On the eve of a planned invasion of India, advance scouts of Genghis Khan encounter a unicorn in the middle of the desert. This unicorn had the head of a horse and the body of a deer. Its fur is green and it speaks in a human tongue: "Time is come for you to return to the kingdom of your lord."

One of the Genghis's Chinese ministers, upon consultation, explained to him that the animal was a jiao-shui, a variety of qilin. "For four hundred years the great army has been warring in western regions, " he said. "Heaven, which has a horror of bloodshed, gives warning through the jiao-shui. Spare the Empire for Heaven's sake; moderation will give boundless pleasure." The Emperor desisted in his war plans."

Page 96,
'Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World', Haruki Murakami

"...The unicorn is the only fabulous beast that does not seem to have been conceived out of human fears. In even the earliest references he is fierce yet good, selfless yet solitary, and always mysteriously beautiful. He could be captured only by unfair means, and his single horn was said to neutralize poison."

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