Friday, April 26, 2013

Of Copts and unicorns - μονοκερωτων

From the blog On Coptic Nationalism, a post entitled Coptic Unicorn: It's Symbolism.

The very prominent Coptologist, Alin Siciu, has recently shared with us a picture of a unicorn which he got in a detail from a Coptic manuscript in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. He dates the manuscript to the 9th century. The beautiful Coptic painting shows a cheerful, hopping unicorn, which one cannot look at without smiling and feeling good. Unicorns are, of course, mystical horse-like animals that are white and with a single, large, pointed, spiralling horn growing from their forehead. They are sometimes depicted with goat’s beard and cloven hooves.

The unicorn (μονοκερωτων) is mentioned in Greek mythology and was described by Aristotle and Strabo. The Greeks were convinced it existed in India. There are a few mentions of the unicorn in the Old Testament. A fabulous book called The Physiologus, which was written in Alexandria in the 2nd century, possibly by Clement of Alexandria, has described the unicorn with other mythical creatures, such as the phoenix, and used them as symbols for Christ: the phoenix which burns itself to death and rises on the third day from the ashes is the type of the Resurrection and the unicorn that only permits itself to be captured in the lap of a pure virgin is a type of the Incarnation. These symbols were taken by the Christian Church, particularly in the West, and used them in art: e.g., the Virgin Mary is often depicted holding the unicorn on her lap...

Complete article here.

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