Tuesday, October 11, 2011

House Insignia of the Day Revealed - At the White Unicorn (The Stone Lamb)

At The White Unicorn (The Stone Lamb)

To some, this house is known as "The White Unicorn" and to others as "The Stone Lamb", and if you look carefully, it's clear why.  Is it a unicorn or a lamb?

The figure of the purported "unicorn" far more closely resembles a lamb that lost one of its horns rather than a mythical creature.  Yet we must bear in mind that years may change the image of a fantastic creature far beyond its original recognition - for instance, the ancient Greek doctor Cthesios asserted the unicorn to be a fleet-footed white donkey with a red head and striped horn.  In turn, the  late medieval explorer Marco Polo described the unicorn as a strange being with a single-horned pig head and the body of an elephant.  Nonetheless, in the great majority of medieval illustrations the unicorn appears as a white horse with a long elegant horn, in the very form that we now know.  As a symbol of purity, the unicorn adorned the family crests of many a European noble house.  

Medieval Europe was firmly convinced of the existence of real unicorns wandering through the deep jungles of the distant Orient.  The reason behind this belief was that foreign merchants supplied Europe with rare horns of long and pointed shape, for which both noblemen and physicians were willing to pay high prices.  It was believed that ground horn acted as a counter-balance to all known poisons, and that its regular use ensured good health, a long life and continued sexual vitality.  A letter actually survives from the Swedish king Jan III from the 16th-century, in which he requests that his son provide him with more unicorn horn, since he had already consumed the lot...Is there any truth in these claims?  The alleged unicorn horns in European noble and church collections are today identified in good part as the tusks of walruses or narwhals, or even possibly from rhinos.  The genesis of belief in the unicorn and the curative properties of his horn can be found in East Asia or Africa, where for centuries one of the most traditional medicinal preparations has been the powder from a ground rhinoceros horn.

At The White Unicorn (The Stone Lamb)
Staroměstské náměstí 17
(Old Town Square #17)