Lore of the Unicorn, by Odell Shepard, , at sacred-texts.com
IN the King James Version of the Bible there are seven clear references to the unicorn, all of which occur in the Old Testament. The animal is mentioned twice in the Pentateuch, once in job, once in Isaiah, and three times in the Psalms. These passages read as follows:--
"God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of the unicorn."--Numbers xxiii. 22.
"His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth."--Deuteronomy xxxiii. 17.
"Save me from the lion's mouth; for thou hast heard me from the horns of unicorns."--Psalm xxii. 21.
"He maketh them [the cedars of Lebanon] also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn."--Psalm xxix. 6.
"But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of the unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil."--Psalm xcii. 10.
"And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with their bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness."--Isaiah xxxiv. 7.
"Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide in thy crib?
"Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?
"Wilt thou trust him because his strength is great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him?
"Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn?"--Job xxxix. 9-12.
One thing is evident in these passages: they refer to some actual animal of which the several writers had vivid if not clear impressions. Although the allusions were made at widely different times, the characterization is consistent, bringing before us a beast remarkable for strength, ferocity, wildness, and unconquerable spirit. Nothing suggests that it was supernatural, a creature of fancy, for it is linked with the lion, the bullock and the calf; yet it was mysterious enough to inspire a sense of awe, and powerful enough to provide a vigorous metaphor.
Much patient toil has been expended in the effort to identify the Biblical unicorn. At the outset of such an inquiry one finds that we owe the word "unicorn" in the King James Version 2 to the xxxxxx everywhere used by the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew Re'em, a bit of translation, interesting in itself, which had enduring results. So far as the western development of the unicorn legend is concerned, this translation is like the main jewel of a watch, holding the intricate structure together. One does not like to see it set down, therefore, as a mere blunder, and when we think of the problem with only such light as the Seventy had we are inclined to call it a minor stroke of genius. They did not know what animal the Hebrew seers and poets had in mind when speaking of the Re'em, but they found that it was characterized as fleet, fierce, indomitable, and especially distinguished by the armour of its brow. Dim recollections were awakened by these traits, and so the Seventy called the one unknown animal by the name of another. Even from our point of vantage it seems doubtful whether they could have found a closer equivalent for a beast which had been mysterious and awful to the Hebrews than this monoceros or unicorn which was to themselves still strange, remote, and conjectural.
Apart from such appropriateness, we discover another value of a different kind in this translation. For the greater part of their course, and until the scholarship of the late Renaissance brought them together, what may be called the Hellenic and the Hebraic branches of the unicorn legend ran separately, with a cleanness of division that would have satisfied Matthew Arnold himself. This one word xxxxxxxx, however, with its already accumulated overtones, was a connecting channel between the two, more important in fact than in appearance. For a long time it maintained belief in the Greek tradition by seeming to imply that whatever Ctesias and his successors had said about the unicorn had the sanction of divine authority. The Septuagint translation of Re'em by xxxxxxxxxx, a translation which meant hardly more than that X = X, was accepted, as the inspired word of God. Ctesias, Aelian, Pliny, and Solinus seemed to be corroborated by Jehovah.
In several passages of the Vulgate the Re'em becomes a rhinoceros, losing as much in imaginative value as it gains in clarity of outline. We are hardly to suppose, however, that Jerome derived this translation directly from the Hebrew text in complete independence of the Septuagint version; it is more likely that he, like St. Ambrose, held the xxxxxxx of the Greeks to be identical with the rhinoceros--a view in which he was to have many followers and as many ardent antagonists. His word amounts, therefore, to an interpretation of the Septuagint's word, and one feels that it is less good largely because it is more precise. How often Jerome may have attended the Circus during those unregenerate days in Rome which he so bitterly repented we cannot be sure, but if he went at all he probably saw there the animal that he later identified with the Biblical Re'em. In superficial appearance it would seem to correspond closely enough.
An attempt to trace the devious and learned arguments by which Biblical scholars have tried to establish the identity of the Re'em would lead us too far afield, considering that there is no reason to believe that the Hebrews themselves thought of this animal as onehorned. None of the passages cited above forces such an interpretation, and only one of them, that from the ninety-second Psalm, even suggests it. Elsewhere, as in Deuteronomy xxxiii. 17 and Psalms xxii. 21, the word for "horns" is used in the plural while "Re'em" is singular. Clearly, therefore, this deep and dark little pocket of erudition need not be explored at present, and we may be content with seeing what has been brought out of it.
After the general abandonment of belief in the unicorn during the eighteenth century there was a return to Jerome's view that the Re'em was the rhinoceros; but as this animal became better known it was felt that he was not fierce and swift enough, and there was doubt whether the Hebrews were likely to have known him. Another view attributed the whole belief in the Re'em to the bas-reliefs of huge mythological beasts seen by the Jews in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Under the leadership of Samuel Bochart, the profoundest scholar who has ever waded these deep waters, a considerable company once contended for the oryx, pointing out that the Arabic name of this animal is still rim; but the value of this discovery was soon destroyed by the announcement of another school that rimu was the Assyrian name of the gigantic aurochs or Bos Primigenius, a species of wild buffalo which became extinct in the sixteenth century. Cuvier, basing his measurement upon remains of the aurochs much smaller than others since discovered, estimated that this animal was twelve feet long and almost seven feet high; its teeth have been found in a cave on Mount Lebanon; Julius Caesar describes it as indigenous to his prolific Hercynian Forest, and in terms fitting all that is said in the Bible about the Re'em; Layard identified the animal with the majestic sculptured bulls of Nineveh. The Bos Primigenius now holds the field. Its bulk, speed, and savage ferocity are described by Caesar in words that make it clear why the Hebrews always spoke of the Re'em with bated breath. So much, then, for the source of the Septuagint xxxxxx--a word inspired by Apollo if not by Jehovah--and therefore of the Biblical unicorn. One is glad to have found the Re'em worthy of his descendant.
Although it seems clear that the writers of the Old Testament did not think of the Re'em as one-horned, there is a possibility that the Talmudic writers did come to consider it so. Any horned animal remembered chiefly by its representations in the sculptures of Egypt, Babylon, Nineveh, and Persepolis, was likely, as we shall see, to be regarded sooner or later as a unicorn, and there came a time when Hebrew writers, with no native sculpture to guide them, were dependent upon just such representations. The Talmudic interpreters, it is certain, had never seen the Re'em, for they exaggerate its size "out of all reasonable compass", asserting in one passage that it is so tall as to touch the clouds and in another that it was too large to be got into the ark and so had to be towed along behind by a cord tied to its horn. Obviously, the Re'em is here seen fading into myth, and so it may have been the original of the wonderful ox three times mentioned in the Talmud as the victim of Adam's first sacrifice--an ox with the interesting peculiarity that it had only one horn on its brow.
The unicorn legend gained valuable and lasting corroboration from the brilliant error of the Septuagint, but this alone would not have won for it anything like its later prestige; another influence was required to carry the unicorn into the centre of Christian myth and symbolism. Fully to understand the second influence that was brought into play we should need to know more than we do about that agglomeration of vice and virtue, wealth and poverty, ignorance and erudition, wisdom and folly, which we call Alexandria. In that city, during the third century after Christ and under Christian influence, there were brought together a number of animal stories, some of them drawn from the wide-spread "Beast Epic" of the world and others apparently concocted to serve the immediate need, each of them fitted with a "moral" somewhat after the fashion of Aesop's Fables. It seems unnecessary to assume that any single individual was responsible for the collection as a whole or that a single original text ever existed.
Readers of Tertullian, Cassiodorus, and even Origen, will not need to be told that the habit of allegorizing not merely everything in the Scriptures but everything outside of them was at this time fastening upon the Christian mind. The world of nature, seldom valued for its own sake by the typical Christian, was more and more regarded as a mere storehouse of edifying metaphors. What we should call facts were felt to be of little worth in comparison with the moral truths that alleged facts could be supposed to signify and it was considered that God had created the lower animals, particularly those that seemed to have no other use, solely for the moral and spiritual instruction of mankind. Very little of Aristotle's objective spirit and method was carried over into the Christian thought centring at Alexandria, disabled as that was from the start by a puerile moral-hunting and phrase-making, by the determination to make facts bend to the uses of edification and to see, almost literally, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good--or, what was considered the same thing, moral significance--in everything.
These were some of the conditions surrounding the haphazard selection, fabrication, and welding together of the stories composing the Christian Beast Epic. In the primitive forms of that body of fable, apparently, each article began with a quotation from Scripture followed by the formula: "But the physiologus [i.e. the naturalist] says . . . " and then came a description of the major traits, real or fancied, of some animal, capped by the moral deduction, the lesson to be learned therefrom. Later copyists seem to have separated the animal descriptions and the morals from the texts they were intended to illustrate, so that each article began with the words: "The Physiologus says." Thus the whole collection, naturally regarded as the work of one author called Physiologus, came to be called by that supposed author's name. In later centuries it was called, in Europe, the "Bestiary".
What sort of thing we may expect from this treasury of animal lore is indicated by its account of the ant-lion: "Physiologus says that the ant-lion's father has the shape of a lion and his mother that of an ant. His father feeds on flesh and his mother on herbs. These two bring forth the ant-lion, which is a mixture of both, for his fore part is that of a lion and his hind part that of an ant. Being thus composed, he can eat neither flesh like his father nor herbs like his mother, and so he starves to death."
Official Christianity did what it could to repudiate this collection, for a synod of Pope Gelasius in 496 condemned it as the work of "heretics", although it had been falsely ascribed to Saint Ambrose. In spite of this and other attacks it remained familiar and influential throughout Christendom for over a thousand years, and there are extant texts in Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Latin, Armenian, Old High German, Icelandic, Old French, Provençal, Ethiopic, Italian, and Anglo-Saxon. It was chiefly by means of these Bestiaries that the popular as distinguished from the learned tradition of the unicorn was disseminated. Not Ctesias and not Aelian but this grist of old wives' tales fathered upon an imaginary "Physiologus" was responsible for scattering the image of the unicorn throughout Europe, making him familiar where books were never read, contorting his shapely limbs on corbels and cornices and miserere seats, depicting him in stained glass and on tapestry, lifting him finally to the British Royal Coat of Arms.
Existing texts of the Physiolous vary considerably in minor details, but this is the substance of what they have to relate about the unicorn: He is a small animal, like a kid, but surprisingly fierce for his size, with one very sharp horn on his head, and no hunter is able to catch him by force. Yet there is a trick by which he is taken. Men lead a virgin to the place where he most resorts and leave her there alone. As soon as he sees this virgin he runs and lays his head in her lap. She fondles him and he falls asleep. The hunters then approach and capture him and lead him to the palace of the king.
One may have known this story for years and may have seen it represented a hundred times in Christian art, yet if he has any gift for stubborn wonder he will be surprised at each return by its strangeness, and curious to know by what queer twist of thought or accident of transmission it has taken on its present form. For this tale, absurd though it may be, is not childishly and feebly absurd like that of the ant-lion; there is a suggestion of age about it and a hint of symbolism not wholly due to the fact that it has served for centuries as a Christian symbol. What affinity did the makers of the tale imagine between the unicorn and the virgin? Why should this animal be thought worth so elaborate a ruse? Why is he led "to the palace of the king"? These questions have puzzled a good many acute and learned minds, and they have never been answered.
But these questions arise out of the Physiologus story by itself, without reference to the fact that another unicorn legend was already current in the Mediterranean world. The moment we recall that fact, another set of questions comes into view. What strands of connection can be discerned between the two legends? Instead of the proud beast of Ctesias and Aelian--fierce, shaped like an ass or horse, solid-hoofed, dangerous, indomitable--we have here an animal so small that it is likened to a kid, with a divided hoof and a beard as seen in later Christian art, and chiefly characterized by a propensity to fall asleep in virgins' laps. The only discernible likenesses are that in both legends the animal is said to be fierce and not to be taken by the ordinary arts of the hunter, and that the quarry in both belongs to the king; but these similarities are so slight as to seem hardly worth mentioning. Apparently we must conclude that the unicorn legend has had two independent origins, or, in stronger terms, that there are two legends of the unicorn, one of which we may call the Ctesian and the other that of Physiologus.
With this not very satisfactory conclusion in mind we may leave, for the present, the larger question of inter-relationship, turning back to the Physiologus account for a closer examination. Some light may be thrown upon that account by the allegorical interpretation that usually follows, though in varying forms, the story itself. In its simpler versions this interpretation likens the unicorn directly to Christ: its one horn is said to signify the unity of Christ and the Father; its fierceness and defiance of the hunter are to remind us that neither Principalities nor Powers nor Thrones were able to control the Messiah against His will; its small stature is a symbol of Christ's humility and its likeness to a kid of His association with sinful men. The virgin is held to represent the Virgin Mary and the huntsman is the Holy Spirit acting through the Angel Gabriel. Taken as a whole, then, the story of the unicorn's capture typifies the Incarnation of Christ.
Thus we see the unicorn caught up into the fervours and ecstasies of Christian symbolism and into the very worship of the Virgin. There could be no limit, once this had happened, to the glory of his career. For this reason one is all the more eager to discover, if possible, the origin of the remarkable story upon which the symbolism is based.
The widest variations from the typical unicorn story to be found in what may be called, with caution, the primitive texts of Physiologus, are those to be seen in the Syriac and Provençal versions. In the Provençal Bestiary, composed under Waldensian influences, the "properties" of many of the beasts are changed, and the unicorn is made to represent the Devil, the signification of the virgin-capture being that evil can be overcome only by virtue. The Syriac version is so interesting as to deserve quotation:--
"There is an animal called dajja, extremely gentle, which the hunters are unable to capture because of its great strength. It has in the middle of its brow a single horn. But observe the ruse by which the huntsmen take it. They lead forth a young virgin, pure and chaste, to whom, when the animal sees her, he approaches, throwing himself upon her. Then the girl offers him her breasts, and the animal begins to suck the breasts of the maiden and to conduct himself familiarly with her. Then the girl, while sitting quietly, reaches forth her hand and grasps the horn on the animal's brow, and at this point the huntsmen come up and take the beast and go away with him to the king.--Likewise the Lord Christ has raised up for us a horn of salvation in the midst of Jerusalem, in the house of God, by the intercession of the Mother of God, a virgin pure, chaste, full of mercy, immaculate, inviolate."
Little assistance in one's search for the origin of the virgin-capture story would seem to be obtainable from this wild tale, which looks like confusion worse confounded, but at least it precludes all possibility that that story was invented ad hoe by Christian allegorizers. One is convinced of this partly by the fact that the signifiatio does not here fit the story as told but is forced upon it in accordance with a custom known to be followed elsewhere. More conclusive is the emphasis upon sexual attraction as the source of the power exercised by the "virgin" over the unicorn. If the virgin-capture story had been deliberately composed as a symbol of Christ's incarnation--such a supposition implying, of course, that the virgin was always and from the start understood to represent the Virgin Mary--it would scarcely have been corrupted by Christians in just this way. In this version the Christian interpretation is forced upon a tale not fully prepared to receive it; old and incongruous elements--or so one might say if disposed to beg the question--have not been deleted here as they have in the other versions. The Syriac version seems to represent an idea about the right method of capturing unicorns which is older than Physiologus; it suggests a possibility that the origin of the virgin-capture story, if it can be found, will turn out to be non-Christian and will rest more heavily, or at least more obviously, upon sexual attraction than the Christianized form of the story usually does.
This element was not entirely ignored in later Christian writing about the unicorn. Hildegarde of Bingen and Thomas of Cantipré, among others, enlarge upon the animal's skill in detecting a virgin at sight, and in some stories we are told that when the huntress is not really a virgin she is killed by the beast--a fairly obvious intrusion of the virginity-test theme. Furthermore, it was held by some that the hunt was more likely to succeed if the virgin was naked, and several insist that she must be beautiful. Alanus de Insulis, who flourished at the end of the twelfth century, gives a curious explanation of the story in which the sexual interpretation is made in terms of mediaeval science. He concludes that the virgin's power is due to a radical difference in "humours", the calidissima natura of the unicorn being drawn irresistibly to its opposite, the femina frigida et humida. The unicorn, he says, has an excess offervent spirits or humours which dilate his heart, and when he comes into the pure moist air surrounding the virgin he feels such relief and is so delighted by that feminine atmosphere that he lies down in her lap. In several early versions, moreover, and notably in the Ethiopic Bestiary, the virgin is not wholly passive but adds certain calculated blandishments to the natural attraction of her charms.
The connotations of the virgin-capture story are in fact definitely erotic, and the Christian interpretation put upon it does not harmonize with the tale exactly but seems to wrench it out of its natural course of development. In saying that the interpretation does not harmonize I refer to the difficulty of imagining the Virgin Mary as lending herself to a deliberate deception of her Son, the omniscient God. In saying that the story seems to have been wrenched out of its natural course I am thinking of what would probably have been done with it elsewhere. The Greeks, if they had been at all interested in animal allegories, might have made it a symbol of the overmastering power of erotic emotion, leading to the ruin of a strong, proud nature; the Hebrew poets might have used it somewhat as they did the great legend of Samson which it so curiously and perhaps significantly resembles--although Delilah is not a good surrogate for the virgin; but in Christian legend the story's original intention has been thwarted, I believe, to serve the purposes of edification. The attempt to point out what that original intention was, and so to solve, in some sense, the long-standing mystery of the virgin-capture story, may be postponed until we have followed the development of the story during the Christian ages.
Probably the earliest narration of the tale in literature outside of the Physiologus itself is that in the Commentary on Saint Basil's Hexaemeron, long attributed to Saint Eustathius of Antioch, who died about A.D. 330. This curious work weaves about Basil's poetic account of creation a tissue of popular legend which makes it good hunting-ground for the student of folklore. In most of its discussions of animals it drags a wide net through the sea of Levantine superstition, but the unicorn passage follows Physiologus in every detail, its only importance for our purpose consisting in the fact that here we see the virgin-capture story moving out into literature under its own sail, without assistance from allegory.
The next mention of the tale was far more influential, for it occurred in a work that was read, copied, imitated, and learned almost by heart for centuries, a work used as quarry and foundation by most of the "encyclopaedists" of the Middle Ages--writers who tried, not so unsuccessfully as might be supposed, to compress all human knowledge within a single book. Isidore of Seville, who died in 636, was one of the men who have exerted an influence upon human thought out of all proportion to their powers chiefly because of their strategic positions in time or place. Played upon by many forces, which he is incapable of criticizing or relating, his tendency is to shovel together rather helplessly all that he has read and heard. This tendency is evident in his important account of the unicorn, which I give myself the pleasure of quoting in John of Trevisa's English:--
"Rynoceron in grewe [i.e. in Greek] is to meanynge an Home in the nose. & Monoceros is an Unycorne: and is a ryght cruell beast. And hath that name for he hath in the mydull of the forehed an home of foure fote long. And that home is so sharpe & so stronge that he throwyth downe al or thyrleth al that he resyth on . . . . And this beest fyghtyth ofte wyth the Elyphaunt and woundyth & stycketh hym in the wombe, and throwyth hym downe to the grounde: And the Unycorn is so stronge that he is not take with myghte of hunters. But men that wryte of kynde of thinges meane that a mayde is sette there he shall come: And she openyth her lappe and the Unycorne layeth theron his heed, and levyth all his fyerinesse & slepyth in that wyse: And is taken as a beest wythout wepen & slayne wyth dartys of hunters."
It is sometimes said that Isidore took the unicorn to be the rhinoceros, but this statement is due to a careless reading of his two first sentences; the fact is that he confused the two animals, which is a quite different thing, as we have seen in considering the third passage from Aelian. In what is said of the unicorn's fight with the elephant and of the great strength of its horn he is dependent upon one or more of the several accounts of the rhinoceros to be found in late classical writers, and especially in Pliny. Unlike Aelian, he had probably never seen a rhinoceros; he had no means of knowing that this animal supplied most of the details of his description of the unicorn, and so he is not entirely responsible for the ridiculous picture he gives us of a rhinoceros slumbering in the lap of a virgin. That picture, in all its gay absurdity, we owe to his mingling of two diverse traditions.
Isidore's account of the unicorn is important, as I have said, because of its influence on later writers, and it was copied, usually with slavish exactness, by most of his successors in the long line of mediaeval encyclopaedists. His passage, indeed, may almost be said to have established a third tradition in which what I have called the Hellenic and Hebraic branches come together; one not confined to the learned like that emanating from Ctesias, nor yet to the ignorant like that of Physiologus, but familiar to the many persons, mostly monks, who could read Latin but had little power of discrimination in what they read. A few of the encyclopaedists, such as Vincent of Beauvais, showed greater independence, but in general it may be said that Isidore determined middle-class opinion about the unicorn, giving the animal an authenticity it could not have won from Physiologus and a vogue it would not have gained from Ctesias, Aelian, or even Pliny.
Intimately associated by the Bestiaries with the central mystery of the Christian faith, and corroborated by a document which even the semi-learned regarded as authoritative, the unicorn was at length firmly fixed in the popular imagination of Europe. The fact that no one ever saw a unicorn did not disturb belief in the slightest degree. No one in mediaeval Europe ever saw a lion or an elephant or a panther, yet these beasts were accepted without question upon evidence in no way better or worse than that which vouched for the unicorn. The stories everywhere told and believed about these three actual animals were not at all less marvellous than those that recommended the unicorn to popular attention; all were upon exactly the same footing so far as credibility was concerned, and side by side with them stood the griffin, the dragon, the amphisboena--a snake with a head at either end--the basilisk, the salamander that lives in fire, and a score of other beasts similarly spawned in the fertile fancy of man and swept together out of all past time. By virtue of his beauty and beneficence, but chiefly because he had the holiest associations, the unicorn was probably the most important of these, yet he was only primus inter pares. He was not regarded as in any sense or degree a mythical, legendary, or supernatural animal--any more than the horse or cat or cow, the hydra or kraken or were-wolf was so regarded; neither was he thought of as a symbol in any degree in which any other animal might not be symbolic. The peculiarity or weakness, call it which one will, which made him so susceptible to the wiles of virgins was merely his "property" or "natura", his idiosyncrasy, exactly analagous to the "property" attributed by mediaeval science to every other creature.
And yet it is probably true that the unicorn attracted more attention during the Middle Ages than any other single beast except the ass. He is the only imaginary animal of Physiologus that passed over into the Renaissance and the most important figure in those menageries of the fancy, gathered for the most part out of Physiologus, that began to swarm in the Cathedrals of Europe during the thirteenth century. From the time of Isidore to the present day he has been more significant to the imagination, and more prominent therefore in literature and art, than any other beast that man has made more or less "in his own image".
Anything like a full presentation of the literature devoted to the virgin-capture story would involve an intolerable amount of repetition, for all this writing was done when it was still sound doctrine that
To take a few examples: the versified Bestiary of Philippe de Thaun tells the tale rather feebly in perfect accord with Isidore and develops the allegory at considerable length; that of William, Clerk of Normandy, carries the significatio to great length and complexity; and Richard de Fournival in his Bestiaire d'Amour manages to inject some novelty into the theme by using it as a symbol of the courtly instead of the celestial love--an audacious thing to have attempted in the middle of the thirteenth century. Richard's poem is a protracted wooing in terms of animal symbolisms, and the lady, quite as learned in the lore of beasts as the lover himself, replies in kind. The lover says in the unicorn passage: "I have been drawn to you by your sweet odour alone, as the unicorn falls asleep under the influence of a maiden's fragrance. For this is the nature of the unicorn, that no other beast is so hard to capture, and he has one horn on his nose which no armour can withstand, so that no one dares to go forth against him except a virgin girl. And as soon as he is made aware of her presence by the scent of her, he kneels humbly before her and humiliates himself as though to signify that he would serve her. Therefore wise huntsmen who know his nature set a virgin in his way; he falls asleep in her lap; and while he sleeps the hunters, who would not dare to approach him when awake, come up and kill him. Even so has Love dealt cruelly with me; for I have been the proudest man alive with regard to love, and I have thought never to see the woman whom I should care to possess . . . . But Love, the skilful huntsman, has set in my path a maiden in the odour of whose sweetness I have fallen asleep, and I die the death to which I was doomed."
In this charming passage one sees that Isidore's confusion of the rhinoceros and the unicorn has done its work: the horn of Richard de Fournival's unicorn is en la narine. Rudolf von Ems places the horn on the brow--
but in other details he depicts the rhinoceros. Thus it happens again and again, as though by a fatality, that the unicorn slips back, as it were, into the rhinoceros; and even the virgin-capture story, violently incongruous as it is with that huge and ugly beast, is often involved in the confusion. It was not that these writers thought the two animals identical, for most of them were almost passionately convinced that the two were different; but no sooner have they finished insisting upon the differences than they describe the one in terms that apply only to the other. Thus the nose-horned beast of India, lumpish and gross and mud-wallowing, looms always just behind the delicate unicorn, related to it as fact to dream, as actuality to the ideal, as Sancho Panza to Don Quixote.
Rudolf von Ems makes as clear a statement as any one of the belief that the ruse of the hunters can succeed only when the girl chosen for the decoy is really a virgin. If she is not, the unicorn shows great anger and runs her through with his horn to punish her deceit. A similar power of distinguishing at sight between the true and the pretended virgin is attributed in folklore to several other animals such as the stag and elephant and lion, and among the many "virginity-tests", all supposed to be unerring, one of the simplest was that of setting the woman in the way of one of these beasts: if she was killed, then she deserved her death; if she lived, overcoming the animal's natural ferocity, it could be only through chastity's magic power. Such ideas, so pervasive and enduring as to have had echoes even in Milton's Comus, were widely current during the centuries when the virgin-capture story was growing, and it would have been strange if they had not found expression there; but one cannot believe that they had a shaping, not to say an originating, influence upon that story. Suggestions of the virginity test are rare in unicorn literature, and they are late; any argument based upon them would be strongly countered by the frequently seductive conduct of the woman herself. In the Syriac Bestiary, as we have seen, the decoy is so obviously not a virgin that no unicorn with the slightest discernment in such matters should have been deceived by her, and we learn, also, from a Greek grammarian of the twelfth century, that the animal can be taken as well by a young man dressed in a maiden's garments as by the maiden herself.
The feminine garments of this youth, we are told, must be heavily perfumed, and this reminds one that in fully half of the virgin-capture narratives in which any explanation is vouchsafed of the virgin's powers of fascination she is said to attract her victim by what may be called the odour of chastity--a scent which could be purchased, apparently, like feminine beauty in our own time, of any good chemist. This idea appears subordinately in the elaborate explanation already cited from Alanus de Insulis. John of San Geminiano says that the unicorn, while stepping along through the forest, "smells the odour of a virgin". Philippe de Thaun remarks that the animal is attracted by the odour of the maiden's breast. Richard de Fournival makes his unicorn aware of the maiden "au flair". The list is a long one, extending from Albertus Magnus, who ascribes the whole phenomenon to the unicorn's keen sense of smell--and here again one is reminded of the rhinoceros--to a learned pharmacist of the seventeenth century, Laurens Catelan who decides, after deep thought and expenditure of much erudition, that the maiden can attract her prey only by the odour which is peculiar to virgins.
Laurens Catelan, however, had not the strange mediaeval beliefa belief which endures to-day in some districts--in the attractive and holding power of the eye. The Abbess Hildegarde of Bingen felt quite at home in mysteries such as this, and her explanation is therefore more confident than most. She believes that several virgins wandering together in a wood are much more attractive to unicorns than a single virgin can be. (Considering that almost all other authorities say that the virgin must be left alone, some even asserting that she must be naked and bound to a tree, is it permissible to suggest that the Abbess may have been led to take this view by her responsibilities as head of a houseful of nuns?) Hildegarde makes it clear that these virgins should be no mere rustics but well born, and neither too old nor too young. When the unicorn sees a bevy of such damsels wandering about, gathering flowers or engaged in some other such maidenly pursuit, he stops at once in his tracks and eyes them; they eye him; then he advances very slowly, crouches on his hind legs and looks at them for a long time from a distance. He is surprised at the fact that although they have in general the appearance of human beings yet they have no beards; he loves them because he sees, forsooth, that they are gentle and kind; and while he is gazing at them, all his wild and innocent heart drawn forth in adoration, the hunters steal up behind and slay him and cut off his horn.
Hildegarde's na•ve remark that the unicorn loves the maidens because they are gentle and kind, so charmingly oblivious of the purpose of those maidens, recalls the fact that not once in all the hundreds of references to the virgin-capture story is there dropped the slightest hint that this device of venery is somewhat lacking in "sportsmanship". The girl always plays her detestable role, drawing the unicorn to his death by acting upon his highest nature, without the slightest compunction, and in the faces of the virgins that were painted in this tableau during the Middle Ages there is always an expression of profound serenity. One feels that some of the supernal charm of chastity might be dispensed with if we could have a little more of the sense of fair play in its place.
The force of this feeling is increased when we turn to consider the use to which the virgin-capture story was put in Christian symbolism. To secure clarity of presentation, I have thus far ignored as much as possible the allegorical meanings put upon the story even in Physiologus and this separation is justified by the fact that the story is sometimes told without any reference to those meanings; yet the vogue of the unicorn legend was largely due to its symbolism, and the efflorescence of the story in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries synchronized significantly with the increase of devotion to the Virgin Mary. During those centuries the story that I have called the Virgin-Capture was elaborated swiftly, in the fervid devotional spirit of the time, into a form which, though the same in origin, seems to deserve another name, and which I shall call the Holy Hunt. Beginning in Physiologus as an allegory of the Annunciation alone, the story came to comprehend in one rich and compact symbol the total life and death of Christ and to shadow forth the whole divine plan of redemption. In its final form it is one of the strangest and one of the most compressed symbols or allegories ever devised--and it sprang, as we shall see, from a strange seed.
The scope of the Holy Hunt allegory may be shown most readily by a paraphrase of an extended passage in an old German book written in honour of the Virgin. A very great king, it is said, had two noble sons. One of them wilfully stabbed himself to death, and the other brought himself so near to death by his misconduct that his life was despaired of. The father, though angry with this second son, was determined to do all that was possible for him, and so sent abroad for the advice of physicians. The wisest of these counselled that no medicine would avail except the blood of a unicorn poured upon the wound. The King therefore inquired how a unicorn might be captured, and he was advised to seek out the most beautiful maiden in his dominions and to seat her in a garden with six other maidens about her; then he should find four swift dogs, set a huntsman over them, bind them two and two together, and cause them to drive the unicorn toward the maiden. This device was successful. In the geistliche auszlegong or spiritual interpretation of this story we are told that the King is God the Father, the first son Lucifer, the second son Adam and his seed; the chief maiden is Mary and those about her are the personifications of her virtues; the huntsman is the Holy Ghost, represented by the Angel Gabriel; the four dogs are strangely identified with the four winds of heaven. In other narrations and frequently in the numerous Holy Hunt tapestries and stained glass windows these dogs are called Veritas, Justitia, Pax, and Misericordia--strange names indeed, considering the purpose the animals serve. The coupling of the dogs, which usually takes place after the unicorn's death, signifies that whereas Mercy and Truth, Justice and Peace, were formerly foes they are now united.
When once the story of the Holy Hunt had attained such complexity as this it was likely to occur anywhere in the vast literature written in praise of the Virgin and of chastity in general. We find it, for example, in a thoroughly detestable book celebrating virginity written by one Heinrich Kornemann early in the seventeenth century. Here the huntsmen who slay the unicorn are called Jews and the "palace of the king" to which the animal is taken after its death is identified with heaven where, "ante conspectum paterni vultus et civium supernorum", it is greeted with appropriate ceremonies like a returning Roman general. The story was never questioned or criticized in any way, for it had been sanctified, and any suggestion that the Virgin acted deceitfully in ensnaring her own Son would perhaps have been regarded as impious. How engaging is the picture of the Angel Gabriel driving the beast into her embraces, with God looking on benignly over the garden wall! And then how ingenious, when the creature has been soothed to rest and slaughtered, to blame its death, which all three of the holy Persons concerned had foreseen and planned and brought about, upon the Jews! The idea suggested by Kornemann that the Son of God, transformed into a unicorn, is harried and hunted through the forests of this world in order to be brought back as a "spectacle" for the citizens of heaven--a faint memory of the Roman Circus--is not so much "quaint" as it is degraded and brutal. Furthermore, the story as told by Kornemann and many others is soaked in a peculiarly foul praise of sexual asceticism which is more base, to all clear and clean thinking, than honest pornography.
The virgin-capture story is not, for all its interest, a pleasing one, and in its later ramifications it becomes positively painful. When he strayed into Physiologus the unicorn entered a region not worthy of him. A creature imagined nobly as terrible, solitary, with the beauty of power, was transformed under Christian influence into a little goat-like animal eating out of the hand, going to sleep in maidens' laps, and serving as a symbol of virginity. Nietzsche could not have asked for a more brilliant illustration of "slave morality."
The Greek version of Pysiologus brings before us a trait of the unicorn which is quite as strange as its weakness for virgins and which had a development in Europe quite as extensive and bewildering. The statement of this trait is brief and simple, but we shall find that the explanation of it, in so far as it can be explained, is neither simple nor brief but will lead us up and down over great stretches of time and into some of the darkest places of the mind. The Greek Bestiary says that when the animals assemble at evening beside the great water to drink they find that a serpent has left its venom floating upon the surface--a characteristic trick of serpents which is elsewhere vouched for. They see or smell this venom and dare not drink,but wait for the unicorn. At last he comes, steps into the water, makes the sign of the cross over it with his horn and thereby renders the poison harmless. The significance of this trait is elsewhere explained by saying that the animal's single horn represents the Holy Cross, that the serpent stands for the Devil, and that the poisoned waters are the sins of the world.
It is remarkable that this trait--which I shall call, somewhat arbitrarily, the water-conning--exactly suited as it was to the uses of Christian allegory, was not reported in the Bestiaries of western Europe. To be sure it was known in the West, but not until late, and then chiefly in learned circles. Isidore of Seville and his followers seem never to have heard of it, and it was almost certainly unknown to Hildegarde of Bingen, who would have delighted in its magical connotations. We may be fairly certain, therefore, that the trait was not mentioned in the primitive versions of Physiologus and that it entered the Greek version from a source to which the other Bestiaries had not access.
The two themes of the water-conning and the virgin-capture were seldom brought together in a single account except in contexts professedly erudite, but a remarkable exception to this rule is found in a rather famous poem on hunting written by Natalis Comes in Latin hexameter about the middle of the sixteenth century. Here a large amount of unicorn lore is packed into little space:--
Having seen in some detail the development of the unicorn legend during the Middle Ages, we may now turn to the difficult question regarding the origin of that part of the legend, the Virgin-Capture and the Holy Hunt, which is the special topic of the present chapter. Speculation about that origin has engaged a good many pens since the time when men began once more to ask questions about things instead of taking them on trust, for every thoughtful writer about the unicorn has been perplexed by the story and has wanted to know whence it came. The result of all this speculation may be summed up in the words of one of the most learned men who have ever touched the problem: "unde nostra fabella orta sit, ignoro"--whence our fable comes I know not. There are two attempts at a solution, however, to be recorded--one of them puerile, but the other, to say the least, highly ingenious.
The statement of Aelian will be recalled that the unicorn lives at strife with animals of its own species except during the season of rut, when the males make a temporary truce with the females. This is not a surprising or even a peculiar trait, but it has caught the attention of a number of scholars as a possible explanation, in default of a better, of the virgin-capture story. Such explanation may have been vaguely suggested by Manuel Philes in the thirteenth century; it was accepted by Andrea Bacci and by Conrad Gesner the zoologist; Samuel Bochart, the greatest scholar who has ever discussed the unicorn legend, added the weight of his name; even Dr. Friedrich Lauchert, a trained literary student of our own time, adopts it without hesitation. In spite of this impressive array of names, however, the theory is too absurd to be seriously entertained, and even if it were credible in other respects, we should reject it on the ground that Aelian came too late into the world to affect the fundamental stories of the Physiologus, and also on the ground that his influence was primarily rhetorical. There is hardly any likeness between the kid-like unicorn of Physiologus and the "cartazon" of Aeian, and it is to the last degree improbable that a single minor trait was adopted from Aeian's unicorn and given such extensive and surprising development while major differences were neglected. Finally, the distinction between the taming of an animal during the season of rut by the females of his own species and the taming of him by a human virgin is a difference "of all the sky".
The second attempt to account for the virgin-capture story requires more respectful attention. Professor Leo Wiener of Harvard University points out the striking similarity between the Physiologus account of the antholops or antelope and that of the unicorn. The former, as told in a Latin manuscript of the eleventh century, runs thus: There is an animal called antholops which is so exceedingly fierce that none of the hunters is able to approach him. He has long horns in the shape of a saw with which he can cut down the largest oaks . . . . When he is thirsty he goes to the great river Euphrates and drinks. Now there grow in that place certain soft and pliable branches of the vine [sunt autem ibi virgae viticeae subtiles et molles], and while he is playing about he entangles himself in them by the horn. When he is firmly caught by both horns he cries out with a great voice, because he is unable to escape from the slender branches [virgulis]; and then the hunter, hearing his voice, runs up, finds him bound, and kills him.
The analogies between this story and that of the unicorn are obvious. The antholops is very fierce and defies the hunters; he is remarkable for the armour of his brow, and this brings about his death; the hunters wait until he is hors de combat before advancing to dispatch him; furthermore, he is caught and held, according to this Latin text of Physiologus, by virgae--in the spelling common in old manuscripts, virge. Professor Wiener believes, if I understand him correctly, that the story of the virgin-capture arose from a misreading, or perhaps a scribe's error, which substituted for virge, "twigs" or "slender branches", the word Virgo, "a virgin". He also thinks that the antholops story itself is a retelling of Aesop's story of the Stag Caught by its Horns in the Forest, and that certain minor details of the unicorn story as told in Physiologus, are of Arabic origin. He sums up thus: "The autalops, after drinking from the Euphrates, goes into the woods and there plays with the branches, virgae . . . . The Physiologus or its source read Virgo instead of virgae, and thus produced the story of the unicorn which plays with its horn in the bosom of the virgo, maiden, and thus is caught. This, then, shows beyond a chance of doubt that the unicorn story arose only after the Arabs came in contact with Latin, which was after 711, and thus the earliest date of the Pbysiologus is established."
I have spared the reader as much as possible of the amazing involution in Professor Wiener's argument, but I cannot mitigate the surprise he will feel at seeing the virgin disappear, like Daphne, into a tree; I can only ask him to share my own disappointment that after such gigantic labours the mountain of scholarship should bring forth only this ridiculous mouse of an alleged mistranslation. Convinced that the Physiolous as we know it cannot be of earlier date than AD. 711, Professor Wiener is constrained to argue that the narrations of the virgin-capture story in Gregory's Moralia and in Isidore's Etymologiae are interpolations made after that date. He does not mention the fact that the story was told by Saint Eustathius of Antioch almost four hundred years before, nor does he explain how Pope Gelasius could have condemned in the fifth century a work that was not produced until the eighth. The words upon which his argument chiefly rests--"sunt autem ibi virgae viticeae"--are found only in a manuscript of the eleventh century, and this seems to me much too late for our present purposes. I do not believe, therefore, that the Latin phrasing of the antholops story gave the original suggestion for the story of the virgin-capture. There is a considerable difference between a unicorned animal and one with two horns fitted with saw-tooth edges, and Professor Wiener's explanation that the antholops may break off one of his horns in his struggle with the virgae, thereby making himself an artificial unicorn, does not seem to meet the needs of the case. We shall do well to look farther.
In considering the Syriac version of Physiolous we have found reason to suspect that the emphasis there laid upon sexual attraction indicates some non-Christian influence. A story similar to that in Syriac is found in Arabic literature of the fourteenth century. Al Damiri says that "a virgin or a beautiful girl" is put in the way of the unicorn, and that as soon as he sees her he leaps into her lap making signs for milk, of which he is naturally very fond. After he has been suckled he lies down drunk, as though with wine, and at this moment the hunters rush in and bind him without resistance. This Arabian unicorn has fallen even below the poor creature of Physiologus, for he is captured because he is drunk, and on milk! Equally interesting is the implication that if no virgin is available any beautiful girl will do as well. Now it seems remotely possible that this Arabian version is a degraded form of the Christian story, and that virginity has been subordinated because the Mohammedans are not Mariolaters and have never laid quite the Christian emphasis upon chastity; but it is certainly far more probable that we have here and in the Syriac version the relics of an older story which the Christians of Alexandria shaped to their purpose. The mention of the virgin in the Arabic tale is due, no doubt, to Christian influence, but her presence is so incongruous with the tale itself as to suggest that she has been imported from another form of the story.
In that case, we must abandon all effort to explain the virgin-capture story in terms of itself and its variants, and we are driven back into the sea of the world's folklore without compass or chart, there to make what accidental landfalls we may. We are seeking an explanation of the elective affinity between virgins and beasts with single horns, or, if virginity is not a primary notion, of the attraction, whether sexual or of some other sort, between women and horned beasts. Virgins undergoing sundry tests, beautiful girls seated lonely and receptive under trees, unicorns, rhinoceroses, faithful lions, elephants, appear and disappear in the mists. Bartholomew Anglicus says that "Elephants be hunted in this wise: there go in the desert two maidens all naked and bare, and these maidens begin to sing alone; and the beast hath liking when he heareth their song, and cometh to them and licketh their teats and falleth asleep anon for liking of the song; and then one maiden sticketh him in the throat and the other taketh his blood in a vessel, and with that blood the people dye cloth. This is useful information, but it is not directly to the purpose and the fog closes in again. We learn that the horn of the young female rhinoceros, taken before she has mated, sells both in Siam and in South Africa at a price at least ten times as great as that given for the horns of mated animals of either sex, on the ground that they are much more powerfully prophylactic. We delve into the myth of Diana the virgin huntress and ponder her connection with the horned moon which has had control over poisons since the beginnings of superstition. In all this rather aimless beating up and down one may learn much about the mental habits out of which the virgin-capture story arose, but the actual source of it eludes one. The suspicion grows upon the seeker that he is looking for the origin of a belief which has never had any single beginning and that all the success he can hope for will be like that of one who looks for the source of a great river--and finds it in half a dozen different springs separated, it may be, by hundreds of miles, or in the rainwind, or in the wandering cloud. And just as it is a hazardous thing to say that the Nile or the Mississippi or the Amazon springs out of precisely this or that hillside, so it would be rash to assert that the virgin-capture story must have had just this or that origin and no other. Such confident assertions are seldom made by those who have looked long into the mists of the primitive imagination where vague shapes are constantly forming and dissolving again.
And yet, though the ultimate origin of the story remains hidden, we have already traced that story somewhat behind the form it took on in Physiologus. It is possible to take one long step farther still, and then we shall have done what we can.
The sudden expansion of the known world during the sixteenth century and the consequent opening of new lands to exploration and conquest, gave to the imagination of Europe an impetus which had among its many results a sort of modern mythology. We are accustomed to think of this expansion in connection with the western hemisphere alone, but the sea route to India and the Far East contributed quite as much as America to European fancy. India, which had been a land of chimera to Ctesias and had remained such during all the intervening centuries, was no less marvellous now that the Portuguese were bringing back a cargo of wonders in every ship that rounded the Cape. By one of the stranger accidents in the history of legend, some of the tales that had once been told of India were transferred to a nearer land, Ethiopia, which had been confused with the great peninsula even in Virgil's time. Most of these tales moved westward with the fabulous Court of Prester John, which had originally been located somewhat vaguely in "India". Ever since the forged letter describing this Christian court had been received, and answered, by Pope Alexander III, Christian missionaries had been much interested in it, and they were none the less so in the early seventeenth century when there seemed to be grave danger that Prester John--at that time approximately five hundred years of age--would fall into heresy. These are the circumstances surrounding the several accounts of Ethiopia that we owe to Jesuits of the period, the best known of which is that of Jeronimo Lobo. Most of the Jesuit travellers to the Court of Prester John have something to say about the Abyssinian unicorn, and Father Lobo has a great deal. From one of them, Fray Luis de Urreta, we get an unmistakable clue to the original nature of the virgin-capture story.
This clue is found in a book packed with unheard-of matters and quite worthy of its noble title: Historia de los Grandes y Remotos Reynos de la Etiopia, Monarchia del Emperador llamado Preste Juan. Well beyond the middle of it there is a clear description of the rhinoceros, which Fray Luis says has been made familiar to Europe by many pictures. He describes it as an extremely wild animal, very fierce and brave and proud, and so powerful that it can be killed only by one ruse or trick. The way of killing it is this: The hunters go into the province of Goyame, which is at the base of the Mountains of the Moon whence the Nile springs, for there alone, in all Africa, are these beasts to be found. When they learn that one is near at hand they load their muskets and they take a female monkey which they have trained for this kind of hunting, and they bring her to the place. She begins at once to run about looking for the rhinoceros, and when she sees him she leaps here and there and dances as she goes toward him, playing a thousand monkey-tricks. He is much delighted in watching this entertainment, so that she is able to approach until she can throw one leg over his back. Then she begins scratching and rubbing his hide, and this gives him keen pleasure. At last, jumping to the ground again, she starts to rub his belly, and then the rhinoceros is so overcome with ecstasy that he stretches himself out at length upon the ground. At this point the hunters, who have been hidden all the while in some safe place, come up with their cross-bows or muskets and shoot him.
Here is such a tale as hunters may have told round the camp-fire, time out of mind, as a matter-of-fact statement of the method by which a valuable animal, too tough for darts and arrows, might be killed. One who lays the two side by side will have little doubt, I think, that the tale reported by Fray Luis springs from the same root as the virgin-capture story, for they correspond not merely here and there but at every point. With regard to the question as to which of the two is probably the older, one sees that Fray Luis's relation, as compared with the other, verges everywhere toward the probable, even the realistic. Instead of the unicorn we have here the rhinoceros, his grossly actual doppelganger. In place of the virgin we are given a monkey--a female monkey, be it observed, and one specially trained in the appropriate feminine blandishments. Instead of depending upon such vague lures as the odour of chastity or the power of the eye, this decoy sets to work with seduction of the most physical kind. Instead of the sleep of the unicorn, which is usually left unexplained by the narrators of the other tale, we have here the natural stretching-out of the beast to enjoy itself to the fullest extent.
Now it seems unlikely that this account is a degraded or brokendown version of the virgin-capture story. Usually, when a myth or legend has reached such an elevation of the supernatural as that attained by the virgin-capture tale, it maintains itself at that level, if only because simple minds find it easier to remember and perhaps easier to believe. This rule--which has, of course, many exceptions--holds particularly for myths and legends that have become entangled with religious beliefs. Numerous written texts of the virgin-capture story, and very numerous representations of it, have existed for a long time to preserve it from corrupting influences. The variations from that story in the account of the rhinoceros hunt, moreover, are not of a sort to be accounted for by assuming a gradual decomposition of the Christian tale as it was tossed from tongue to tongue during the centuries. The two stories answer to each other point for point, so that one who tried to prove that the monkey-capture is a debased version of the virgin-capture story would be obliged to assume a conscious act of euhemerization for which he could scarcely assign a sufficient motive. But the most cogent argument against such a theory is the vaguest and the hardest to state: such a patient unravelling of a developed legend and the substitution, strand by strand, of baser materials, is simply foreign to the thought-habits of the times and the minds concerned. Such cynical performances are amusing to a Lucian or an Anatole France, but we cannot attribute them to African hunters of the seventeenth or of any earlier century. And this tale of the rhinoceros hunt is a hunter's tale. As such, it is probably ancient, for during historic times the rhinoceros of India--where the story first was told--was captured chiefly by great drives, such as that organized by Tamerlane in the fourteenth century, in which hundreds of men took part on foot and horseback.
We must conclude, then, that the tale told by Fray Luis is not derived from the account of the unicorn in Physiologus. But the two stories are related to each other, and closely related. Either they spring separately from a single root or else the Christian legend is the product of a more or less deliberate allegorizing of the heathen belief. The second of these possibilities seems to me to harmonize with the little we can safely surmise about the methods and purposes of the shapers of Physialogus. There may have been some intermediary forms of the story that are now lost, and there were probably some forms of the monkey-capture story more primitive and even less pleasing than that related by Fray Luis, for early Arabian tales about the monkey were often obscene. To pursue the story into the jungles of Siam would be an absorbing adventure, no doubt, but it would not advance our knowledge of unicorn lore. We have traced the Christian legend of the unicorn back, if not to its source, at any rate to a form as primitive, in all likelihood, as that in which the early Christians found it, and this should be sufficient.
The conclusion at which we arrive is a surprising one. On the one hand we have the rich and mystical beauty of the Holy Hunt comprising in one packed symbol the conception, life, and death of Christ--a symbol branching out into literature, flowering profusely in the arts, entangled with the central religious passion of the Middle Ages. On the other hand we have a ludicrous tale about the antics of a she-monkey trained to decoy the rhinoceros by scratching his belly and back. Our inference that the religious symbol is derived from the gross hunter's tale may be repugnant to some sensibilities, but the apparent contrast is exactly of the kind that confronts us everywhere in our probing toward the bases of life, of beauty, even of love. Ultimately we have to decide whether we shall think less highly of the flower or contrive to think somewhat better of the earth from which it grows.