Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Bewitching Biology of the Enigmatic Echidna

               I was thumbing through an Anthologia Graeca the other day and thinking about the Bellerophon legend at the same time, when I happened upon a fragment by Demodocus of Leros, 
A viper stung a Cappadocian's hide; 
And, poison'd by his blood, that instant died.” 
This recalled to my mind an incident in Amurath to Amurath (1911) by that astonishing Orientalist, Miss Gertrude Lowthian Bell, who records that as her party was approaching Caesarea, the following occurred, 
Not only the geographical features of the land, but also the physical and moral qualities of the inhabitants of Caesarea came under our consideration as we rode. ‘If a serpent bites a man of Kaisariyeh,’ observed Fattuh, ‘the serpent dies.’” 
G L Bell - Amurath to Amurath - 1911

It can’t be a bad thing for regionalist insults like this to endure for a couple of millennia. Demodocus uses the Greek έχιδναechidna – for ‘viper’ and Echidna was also the monstrous mother of the Chimera, the terrible creature killed by Bellerophon. She was half beautiful, black-eyed woman, half enormous, speckled serpent, not divine but yet eternal and ageless, living below the ground and eating raw flesh and she was known as the ‘mother of all monsters’, such were her horrible offspring. 


Echidna was first mentioned in Hesiod’s Theogony, and among her dreadful issue were Geryon, the two-headed dog Orthrus and the three-headed dog Cerberus, the Sphinx, Scylla, the Colchian Dragon, the Nemean Lion, the Hydra and the eagle that daily consumed the liver of Prometheus. Echidna was eventually killed by Argus Panoptes, the faithful, ever-vigilant herdsman with one hundred eyes, who was immortalised by Hera when she placed his eyes in the tail of the peacock. 


Echidna is also the name of a spiny ant-eater from Australia and New Guinea, although the name does not come from the mythological monster-mother but from έχίνοςurchin or hedgehog – to which the animal bears a resemblance. However, this is not so unusual, as many creatures take their names from mythological creatures – the Hydra, Medusa, Alcyone, Hippocampus and Arachne spring to mind and you can probably add many more of your own to the list. 

The echidna belongs to an extremely ancient family of mammals called the monotremes, which get their name from the single opening through which their reproduction and excretion takes place, (μονός - monos – ‘single’ and τρήμα – trema – ‘hole’), similar to the cloaca of reptiles and birds. The only other monotreme that still survives today is the more-famous Duck-Billed Platypus. 


The order monotremata is placed in the taxonomic group prototheria (from πρώτος – prōtos ‘first’ and θήρ – thēr ‘wild beast’), reflecting its primitive situation within the mammals  - the other groups are the metatheria (from μετα – meta ‘after’ or ‘beyond’ and the suffix for wild beast already mentioned), and the eutheria ( ευθήριον – euthērion ‘true beasts’).

The metatheria is slightly more inclusive than the more familiar term marsupial, as it also admits animals more closely related to them than to placental mammals; they produce larval-like offspring which migrate to a pouch, where they develop and feed on a nipple. The eutheria are the ‘true’ or ‘good’ mammals, which deliver their young through a widened opening in the pelvis, together with other anatomical features (one such is the lack of the epipubic bones found in the marsupials). 


The monotremes (the platypus and the four species of echidna) are mammals, in that they are warm blooded, have body hair and produce milk on which their offspring feed, although they lack true nipples and the milk is extruded through the skin, (which has caused some to call for the monotremes to be removed from the mammals and placed in class of their own), but the most notable difference is that they lay eggs, from which the offspring hatch, (the males also have spurs attached to the tibiae, which are venomous in the male platypus and non-venomous in the male echidnas). 

Richard Owen - On the Marsupial Pouches, Mammary Glands and Mammary Foetus of the Echidna Hystrix - 1865

Richard Owen, the Victorian anatomist, thought that the eggs of the echidna were incubated within the body of the female and the young were live-born, and the weight of his authority confused the situation for many years, until it was finally inconclusively proven in 1884 that the monotremes did in fact lay eggs. 

Echidna - from Owen (above) - 1865

Echidnas may resemble the world’s other ant-eaters but they are no more related to them as they are to other species, although like ant-eaters, they have elongated, toothless snouts, which serve as nose and mouth, and feed on ants, termites and other small insects. The males and females are roughly the same size, about the size of a large rabbit, and are furred, with sharp spines mixed in with the fur and when alarmed, they roll into a defensive ball in the manner of our familiar hedgehogs. 


The females produce a single leathery egg about three weeks after mating, which is immediately placed in their pouch and from which the young echidna hatches after about ten days. The young remain in the pouch for approximately two months, after which they emerge and stay in underground burrows whilst the mother forages for food, returning periodically to suckle the baby until, at about six months it is weaned. For their size, echidnas are remarkably long-lived, some captive animals have attained the age of over fifty years, which may be due to their lower than normal metabolic rate when compared to other mammals. 


Thankfully, echidnas are not considered to be at risk at the present time and are listed as of ‘least concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN).

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Gorgonic Gruesomeness of the Petrifying Perseus

                 In between the chapter in which he describes the unicorn and that in which he portrays the basilisk, Pliny the Elder describes another creature that is able to kill with a single glance, the catoblepas, which takes its name from the Greek καταβλέπω –meaning ‘to look downwards’. 
An animal of moderate size, and in other respects sluggish in the movement of the rest of its limbs; its head is remarkably heavy, and it only carries it with the greatest difficulty, being always bent down towards the earth. Were it not for this circumstance, it would prove the destruction of the human race; for all who behold its eyes, fall dead upon the spot.” 
(Natural History, Book 8, Chapter 32). 
Georges Cuvier, the great French naturalist and zoologist, was of the opinion that Pliny was referring to a conflation of descriptions of the hippopotamus and the gnu, (Essay on the Theory of the Earth), which seems sensible enough if we refer to the description of the catoblepas in Edward Topsell’s The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes (1607), 
Among the manifold and divers sorts of Beasts which are bred in Affricke, it is thought that the Gorgon is brought foorth in that countrey. It is a feareful and terrible beast to behold: it hath high and thicke eie-lids, eies not very great, but much like an Oxes or Bugils [Buffaloes], but all fiery bloudy, which neyther looke directly forwarde, nor yet upwards, but continuallye downe to the earth, and therefore are called in Greeke Catobleponta.” 

Edward Topsell - Catoblepas
The illustration that accompanies this description certainly looks like a strange hybrid of the hippopotamus and the wildebeest. Topsell gets himself into a terrible muddle when he describes the Gorgons who are, he says, the daughters of Medusa and Phorcynis, and he has Perseus cutting off a male Medusa’s head before he was placed in the constellation that bears his name. This male Medusa then becomes a female leader of an army of ferocious Amazonian warriors, who lived in Africa, and was beheaded by Perseus and it was the poets who then tacked on the story about her having snakes for hair. 

Gorgon's Head

The Gorgon creatures were poisonous and Topsell thought they killed men with their baleful eyes rather than with their breath, and he tells the story of how the Roman general Marius sent soldiers to kill a gorgon but they were all killed by its gaze, so more soldiers were sent with orders to kill one with spears, from a distance, which they did and its skin was sent to Rome, where it was placed in the Temple of Hercules. Topsell has got his wires crossed with the mythology of the Gorgons, which may not be surprising as there are varying accounts of their genesis. 

Gorgon's Head

In the earliest legends, Gorgon was a single monstrous creature but Hesiod changes to story and transforms Gorgon into three sisters, born of the sea-deities Keto and Phorcys, two of which are immortal, Stheno and Euryale, and the third is mortal, she is Medusa. The Gorgon – from the Greek Γοργών – ‘dreadful’ – had brazen hands, gold-coloured wings, teeth as long as boars’ tusks and their eyes would turn any living thing to stone. Medusa alone had snakes for her hair, a punishment inflicted on her by Athena for allowing herself to be ravished by Poseidon in Athene’s temple. 

Perseus and the Graeae

The Gorgons were the sisters of the Graeae and later legends mix the two trios into a single one; the Graeae were also the offspring of Keto and Phorcys, they were three ancient, grey-haired sisters who shared between them a single eye and a single tooth. Their names were Deino (Δεινώ – ‘dread’), Enyo (Ενυώ – ‘horror’) and Pemphredo (Πεμφρηδώ – ‘alarm’). 

Perseus and Medusa

King Polydectes sent Perseus to kill Medusa, in the hope that he would be turned to stone, but the Gods favoured Perseus and gave him gifts to assist his quest – a helmet of invisibility, winged sandals, a curved sickle-like sword, a mirrored shield and a bag in which to keep the Gorgon’s severed head. 

Perseus is Given Gifts

He visits the Graeae and holds their common eye to ransom until they reveal the whereabouts of their Gorgon sisters, and he flies on his winged sandals to end of the western world to confront them. 

Perseus kills Medusa

Perseus avoids Medusa’s direct gaze by looking at her reflection in the shield and succeeds in decapitating her, puts the head into the bag and flies back Polydectes, whom he turns into stone by using the still-deadly head. 

Perseus turning Polydectes to stone

After further adventures, Perseus gives the head to Athena, who places it either on her shield or on her breastplate, the Aegis. 

Athena with Medusa's head on her breastplace

The drops of blood that dripped from Medusa’s neck either were turned into the venomous snakes of Africa or those that fell into the sea were turned into Pegasus, the fabulous winged horse, and Chrysaor, the future king of Iberia. 


Pegasus was later used by Bellerophon to conquer another fearsome mythological creature, the Chimera. This beast was born from the mating of Typhon and Echidna (the ‘Mother of all Monsters’ and another horror courtesy of the aforementioned sea deities Keto and Phorcys), and was a fire-breathing hybrid with the body of a lion, the head of a goat sprouting from its back, and a tail ending with a serpent’s head (the word ‘chimera’ has since come to mean any monstrous hybrid creature, particularly those that are the creation of crazed genetic-scientists who beaver away in secret laboratories located inside volcanoes). 


It is thought that the chimera is an explanation of the phenomena of the permanent methane gas vents that burn on Mount Olympos, Lycia and was reputed to have lions living on its summit, goats grazed on its lower pastures and there were serpents living around the base. King Iobates (mentioned here) sent the youth Bellerophon on a series of seemingly impossible tasks, in the hope he would be killed (spot the common theme, when it comes to getting rid of bothersome youths in ancient times), one of which was to defeat the chimera. Athena gave Bellerophon a magic halter, with which he captured the winged horse Pegasus, allowing him to attack the monster from the air and thereby avoid its heads and its fiery breath. 

Bellerophon slays the Chimera

However, the fame of his deed went to Bellerophon’s head and he began to think that he ought to be living on Mount Olympus with the Gods, and mounted Pegasus with the intent of flying there. Zeus, irked by this presumption, sent a gadfly to bite Pegasus on the rump, causing him to buck and throw Bellerophon off, who fell to earth and landed in a thorn bush, living out the rest of his miserable days as a blinded cripple. Hubris is a dreadful thing.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Arachnophagic Antics of the Learned Lady

                Of all the remarkable women who lived in the seventeenth century, the most remarkable of them all must surely be Anna Maria van Schurman, who was born in Cologne on November 5th 1607.  Fleeing from religious persecution, the van Schurman family moved to Utrecht, in the Netherlands, when Anna Maria was only three years old. Her father, Frederik, taught his children at home, as was normal for the elite of that time, and one day in 1618, he was tutoring his sons Hendrck and Johan in their Latin grammar when he asked them a question which they were unable to answer. However, young Anna Maria was in the same room and was supposed to be learning French but she was able to answer her father’s question. Frederik decided at that moment that his daughter would also learn Latin, which was an almost unprecedented subject for a girl at the time. 

Anna Maria van Schurman

Latin was the language of male power in Europe and an essential part of the education of learned gentlemen, but girls were excluded from a classical education – why on earth would girls need one, after all? However, Anna Maria excelled at languages (she was fluent in fourteen, including Latin, Greek, German, French, Arabic and Ethiopian), and by learning Latin she was able to become the first European woman to obtain a university education and to be awarded a degree, and although she attended lectures and took part in debates and disputations, she was still obliged to sit behind a curtain, out of the view of the male students. She went on to become one of the foremost intellectuals of her age, she was an artist, poet, theologian and author, and no library in Europe was complete without a least one copy of her works. 

Anna Maria van Schurman

There was also something else that was different about Anna Maria – she liked to eat spiders. She ate them like nuts, saying that that was how they tasted to her and excused her propensity by saying she had been born under the sign of Scorpio. The great German entomologist August Johann Rösel described a German philosopher who was also fond of the odd spider or two, although he preferred to spread them on bread like butter, and Pierre André Latreille, ‘The Prince of Entomologists’, noted that the renowned French astronomer, Jérôme Lalande, was equally fond of spider-eating. 

A snack, anyone? Maybe just a leg, perhaps?

Most people will, I feel confident in saying, find even the notion of eating spiders disgusting, let alone the act itself, as spiders are one of those creepy-crawlies that reduce many people to the screaming heebie-jeebies. In the west, we don’t tend to include insects on our list of food groups, which is strange when you think about as we unreservedly esteem such arthropods as lobster, prawns, shrimps and crabs, which are, when it comes down to it, simply marine insects.
In literature, the most famous example of insect eating occurs in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), where Dr Seward records Renfield’s descent into madness, as he starts by collecting spiders in his room, then collecting flies on which to feed them, before starting to eat them himself, moving on to birds and then fixing his eyes on a kitten. His zoophagous mania is a sure sign that he has hopelessly lost his mind, it is so obviously a mad thing to do - we just don’t eat spiders or flies. 

Odilon Redon - The Spider

Of course, the other great zoophage in popular culture is that insatiable old lady who consumes a host of increasing larger creatures in the song by Alan Mills and Rose Bonne I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, although why she swallows a horse after swallowing a cow I’ve never worked out to my own satisfaction – I see that a spider would eat the fly, the bird would eat the spider and so on, but why the cow to eat a goat and why a horse (surely not much bigger than your average cow, and a vegetarian to boot)? This is what happens when you start analysing nonsense songs. 

Anyway, flies are better suited to be monkey food, as seen in Ben Jonson’s play The Staple of News, where the character Almanac says of Pennyboy that he, 
Sweeps down no cobwebs here, 
But sells them for cut fingers; and the spiders, 
As creatures rear'd of dust, and cost him nothing, 
To fat old ladies monkeys.” 

August Johann Rosel - Spiders Webs

The use of cobwebs, or spiders webs, as an antiseptic for cut fingers and so on, has a long history in folk medicine; Shakespeare mentions it in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Bottom says to the character Cobweb, 

I shall desire you of more acquaintance, good Master Cobweb: if I cut my finger, I shall make bold with you.” 

S F Gray - Supplement to the Pharmocopoeia - 1836

Even as late as 1836, cobwebs are listed as a styptic if used externally in the Supplement to the Pharmocopoeia by Samuel Gray, and as a cure for the ague if taken internally; cobweb pills were in common use for ague (fever, pyrexia), well into Victorian times. Spiders’ web is rich in vitamin K, which assists in the clotting of blood. 

Cobweb - entry in Gray's Supplement - 1836

Cob’ and ‘cop’ are old words for a spider, found in such formations as the Anglo-Saxon áttorcoppa – the word for a poisonous spider, which remains in use in the dialect words for a spider addercop and attercop, and spincoppe; in Welsh it is adyrgop and in Danish it is eddergop.

Monday, 25 February 2013

The Perfidious Perils of the Baleful Basilisk

                   The Unicorn may have been fierce and untameable, according to the old bestiaries, but it was generally seen as a benign beast, whereas there was another creature that was born bad, spent its life doing dirty deeds and about which no one had a good word to say– the basilisk. Its birth was curiously fanciful in the extreme. 


Sometimes, particularly when they are young and just beginning to lay, chickens will lay ‘wind’ eggs, which are immature attempts that occur before they begin to lay properly. These are sometimes very small or misshapen, often without a yolk, sometimes without a shell, and are also known as ‘cock’s eggs’. In folklore, it is said that if a toad or a serpent incubates a cock’s egg, the resultant hatchling will be either a cockatrice or a basilisk. 


In heraldry, a wyvern was a two-legged dragon, often but not always with wings; a cockatrice was identical to the wyvern except that it had the head of a dung-hill cockerel, and the basilisk had a crest on its head, similar to a crown, and had an extra dragon’s or serpent’s head at the end of its tail, rather than a barb or a sting. 


In his A New, Accurate System of Natural History Vol 2 (Birds) of 1763, Richard Brookes describes the cock’s egg and his final clause is particularly telling, as he feels it necessary to mention it, 
There is a little egg fometimes found in Hens nefts, no bigger than that of a pigeons, which is commonly called a Cock's egg, and is pretended by fome, that a Crocodile has been generated from it; but this is a fable.” 

Richard Brookes - Birds - 1763

By crocodile, it is certain that Brookes meant a cockatrice (he is consistently inconsistent throughout his works). The basilisk takes its name from the Greek βασιλισκος - basilikos, a diminutive form of the word for King, as the King is the basis of the nation, as it was thought to be the King of all the reptiles and the comb on its head was its crown (sometimes it wore an actual crown), in Latin it was known as the Regulus. 


Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History (Book VIII Chapter 33) describes the basilisk as a small serpent with a white crest, resembling a crown, that scares away all other serpents when it hisses, moves along erect rather than by a succession of folds, like other snakes, and is so poisonous that it kills plants as it passes by them, and if a mounted horseman attempted to spear one the poison would spread up the spear and kill not only the rider but the horse too. 


The only creature that could kill a basilisk was the weasel, the smell of which was fatal to it, and weasels were put into the burrows of basilisks to rid the country of them. It seems from this explanation that someone, somewhere, had seen a king cobra, which looks (with a little imagination) like it is wearing a crown of sorts, and had seen a mongoose (very like a weasel) killing the cobra. Some cobras are able to spit their venom, which may account for the belief that the basilisk is able to kill from a distance, with its baleful glare. 

Aldrovandus - Basilisk

Early illustrations of the basilisk show it as a crowned serpent or, in the case of Aldrovandus, as an eight-legged creature, and it is not until later that the cockatrice and the basilisk become virtual synonyms. The ever-sensible Sir Thomas Browne, in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica (Vulgar Errors), distinguishes between the cockatrice and the basilisk, writing  
“…this of ours is generally described with legs, wings, a serpentine and winding tail, and a crest or comb somewhat like a cock. But the basilisk of elder times was a proper kind of serpent.” 

Sir Thomas Browne - Of the Basilisk - 1686

He examines the evidence with his usual diligence and concludes that the so-called basilisks displayed in cabinets of curiosities have been man-made from the skins of birds, snakes and fishes; he also had some of his own made to confirm his argument. He dismisses the notion of generation from cock’s eggs as 
a conceit as monstrous as the brood itself,” 
although he does allow that another myth about the birth of the basilisk, that they were brought about by Egyptian Ibises eating venomous snakes, the properties of which were passed on into their own eggs, is a possibility. 

Charles Owen - The Natural History of Reptiles - 1742

Browne also turns his mind to the Biblical basilisk, as it is mentioned depending on how the word Hebrew word zephoni is translated – take Isaiah 11:8, 
And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.” 
[King James Version] 
In some versions (Lowth, Douay-Rheims etc) the word ‘basilisk’ is used instead of ‘cockatrice’, which is more fitting in the context, particularly if the sense of a dangerous venomous reptile is intended. As you may imagine, mentions of the basilisk abound in English literature, where it features in the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Pope and Shelley amongst many others. 


The cock’s egg also lies behind a common English word, if we look at the Middle English words coken (pertaining to cocks) and ey (egg), we arrive at the word cockney. It appears first in the Vision of Piers Plowman (1362), (A-text, Passus VII) 
Ich haue no salt bacon; 
Nouht a cokeney, by Cryst, colhoppes to make.” 
In this sense, it means the meanest, poorest sort of an egg but when the word appears next in English literature, in Chaucer’s The Reeve’s Tale (c.1386), 
And when this jape is tald another day, 
I sal be held a daf, a cokenay.” 
it has another meaning, that of a simpleton or spoiled townie, soft in both the body and the head. By the sixteenth century, country dwellers were using ‘cockney’ to mean any effeminate, pampered city dweller, most especially those from the east end of London, those born within the sound of Bow bells (the bells of the church of St Mary-le-Bow), which just goes to confirm what every northerner already knows about cockneys anyway.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Further Fables of the Mythical Monocerous

               The most convincing physical evidence of the existence of unicorns came when the tusks of narwhals began to arrive in Europe from the Arctic north. The narwhal (Monodon Monoceros) is a toothed whale which grows a single (usually), long, spiralled tusk that, when taken from the animal’s head, perfectly fits the supposed description of the unicorn’s horn. 

Hunting the Narwhal
Queen Elizabeth I is said to have bought a narwhal tusk for ten thousand pounds, a price equal to over two million pounds at today’s rates, in the belief that it was a unicorn horn. It was mentioned as the first item of an inventory of the possessions of the Queen, perhaps indicating its importance to her. 
Unicorn from Gesler's Historiae Animalium

A Florentine physician records that sixteen ounces of ground ‘unicorn’ horn was on sale for 1,536 crowns, when the same weight of gold could be bought for a mere 148 crowns. There were many ‘unicorn’ horns on view in the palaces, cathedrals and churches of Europe, Edward Topsell, writer of a bestiary of his own, records seeing many of them, including two at Venice and another in Paris, and describes the unicorn itself as, 
“…a beast, in shape much like a young Horse, of a dusty colour, with a maned necke, a hayry beard, and a forehead armed with a Horne of the quantity of two Cubits, being separated with pale tops or spires, which is reported by the smoothnes and yvorie white-nesse thereof.” 
Konrad Gesner, in his remarkable Historiae Animalium (1551-58) includes a woodcut of a narwhal which looks for all the world like a sea-serpent with a great horn rising from its forehead. 

Konrad Gesner - Narwhal

He also relates the story that the Lion and the Unicorn were the greatest of enemies, and that as soon as the lion sees a unicorn it climbs up the nearest available tree, and the unicorn, observing this, in its fury rushes at the tree and attempts to dislodge the lion, but will eventually get its horn stuck into the tree trunk, whereupon the lion drops down onto its back and kills it (Shakespeare alludes to this legend in Julius Caesar, with the line, “Unicorns may be betray’d with trees.”). 

The Lion and the Unicorn

The animosity of the lion and the unicorn carries over into heraldry, where the unicorn is sometimes shown wearing a collar, indicating that it has been mastered, but sometimes the collar carries a broken chain, showing that the unicorn refuses to be subdued. 

One Pound
If you are British, there is a good chance that you will have a unicorn in your pocket, as a lion and a unicorn feature as supporters on the Royal coat of arms, which appears on the reverse side of some one pound coins. The lion is traditionally the symbol of England and on the full Royal arms, the unicorn represents Scotland, a combination dating back to 1603, and the accession of King James I of England, who was also King James VI of Scotland.

In the Display of Heraldry (1679), by John Guillim, the existence of the unicorn is called into question, 
It hath been much questioned amongst naturalists, which it is that is properly called the Unicorn; and some have made doubt whether there be any such Beast as this or no.” 
Doubts about the unicorn are no better expressed than in the Pseudodoxia Epidemica (Vulgar Errors) of Sir Thomas Browne (first edition 1646), in Book III, Chapter XXIII, Of Unicorns Horn, where he examines the Biblical Re’em (he thinks it was a rhinoceros), Asiatic asses, the Indian ox, the rhinoceros and the oryx, marine fishes and even certain types of beetle.

Sir Thomas Browne - Of Unicorns Horn

In turn, he describes the assorted unicorn horns that were displayed across Europe, noting that the one at St Denis, Paris, has ‘wreathy spires and cochleary turnings about it’, whereas another two at St Mark’s, Venice are plain and look like the horns of the Indian Ass, and that belonging to the Elector of Saxony is straight and not hollow, although another at Antwerp appears to be the tusk of a sea creature (a narwhal?), a suspicion strengthened by the fact that it was brought from Iceland. 

Browne was an empiricist of the Baconian mould and so, as you might expect, there is not a lot that gets past him. He examines the available evidence and weighs its importance and relevance, looking at the pros and cons, and is very thorough in his deliberations, with his conclusions delivered in a very pleasing, dry, tongue in cheek fashion. 

Horns on a horse

Just about anything had been put forward as the horn of a unicorn – goat’s horns, cows, sheep and hart’s horns, rhinoceros horn, the horns of swordfish, the teeth of hippopotamus, and the teeth of the narwhal.
Since therefore, there be many unicorns; since that whereto we appropriate a horn is so variously described, that it seemeth either never to have been seen by two persons, or not to have been one animal; … that horns soever they be that pass among us, they are not the horns of one, but several animals: since many in common use and high esteem are no horns at all.” 
Be that as it may, it did not stop people ‘discovering’ unicorns. In 1820, a letter from Major Latter, serving in the British Army east of Nepal, was sent to Adjutant-General Nicol, who forwarded it on the Marquis of Hastings. Latter said that a Tibetan manuscript listed a cloven-hoofed animal – the Tso’po – that had a single horn and a boar-shaped tail, was very fierce and could not be taken alive, conforming to the description given by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (Book VIII), which in turn was taken from Ctesias. 

The creature was not a rhinoceros, which was listed separately, not was it a wild horse, which was similarly listed. Latter was convinced that it was the missing unicorn and had written to the Sachia Lama for more information. An entry in the Asiatic Journal (May-August 1830) some ten years later wryly reports that ‘no fact has since transpired … we cannot participate in these renewed hopes’ [of finding the unicorn].