Today, unicorns are symbols for sweet and gentle things, but in the Middle Ages it was a beast humanly found impossible to hunt. A being with supernatural powers, strong and perfectly capable of killing with its horn. The unicorn was a treasure trove for alchemists. But it did have one weakness!
The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79) described unicorns as animals with a horse-like body, a head reminiscent of a deer’s, elephant’s feet, and a boar’s tail. He recorded that at the first sight of the woman, the unicorn lost all its fighting spirit.
After the maiden had let her breasts show, the previously untamed creature would approach the virgin and lie down beside her. Then it would place its head in her lap and might try to suckle, falling into a daze until it slept, like a baby. This was the time for the hunter to appear and capture the target — then taken into captivity or killed with a sword
For the capture of this being, the presence of a virgin was important, and this is mentioned in one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, A Maiden with a Unicorn: “The unicorn, with his intemperance and because he does not know how to control himself, forgets his savagery and ferocity for the love he has for fair maidens; leaving all fear aside, he goes to the maiden and sleeps on her lap, then the hunters catch him”.
Many medieval books depict unicorns with blue fur and/or under a red sky.