Sacred Texts  Miscellaneous  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Unicorn, a Mythological Investigation, by Robert Brown, [1881], at

p. 79



Subsection 1. The Solar Lion.

THAT the Lion is a symbol of the Sun, and more particularly of the diurnal Sun, is a fact familiar to the mythologist, and one which has already been illustrated in the preceding pages; 1 but a few further instances may suitably here be added.

In the Kamic Hymn to Ra-Har-em-akhu, 2 the diurnal sun on the horizon, we read;—'Thou roarest in smiting thy foes,' 3 the terrible roaring of flame being a link between the sun and the lion, as an Akkadian Hymn-writer says of Nindara, 'Lord-of-the-darkness,' i.e., the Nocturnal-sun, 'Thou, during thy action, roarest,' 4 and as a Vedic Hymn-writer says of Agni (Ignis) that he 'roars like a lion.' 5

In the Inscription of Daryavush I. at El-Khargeh, the oasis of Ammon in the Libyan desert, the great god Amen-Ra, the Invisible-god revealed in the Sun-god, is addressed as 'the Lion of the double lions.'

p. 80

[paragraph continues] These 'two lions, two brothers,' 'the two Lion-gods,' are two solar phases as diurnal and nocturnal, Har and Set, 1 Shu and Tefnut; 2 and as there is but one solar orb, so he is 'the Lion of the double lions.'

In the Funereal Ritual the Osirian, or Soul seeking divine union and communion with the Sun-god, prays;—

'Let me not be surpassed by the Lion-god:
 Oh, the Lion of the Sun, who lifts his arm in the hill' 3 [of heaven].

And exclaims;—

'I am the Lions. I am the Sun.
The white lion is the phallus of the Sun.' 4

A remarkable amulet of the Helleniko-Kamic period, copied by Caylus, 5 illustrates the occult expression 'phallus of the sun,' and also shows the solar-leonine connexion. In the centre of a circle is a closed human eye, surrounded by various animals and representations all turned toward s it, and placed in the following order:—On the right hand or eastern side, a cock, a serpent, and a goose; on the north, a lizard and a thunderbolt; on the west, a scorpion and a phallus; and on the south, a lion and a dog. Caylus remarks feebly that 'Superstition is infinitely varied in its details,' but makes no attempt to explain the

p. 81

design; and indeed the combination is elaborate and extensive, and the design inexplicable when solely regarded either on Kamic or Hellenik principles. The single central eye is closed to show that the Sun of the Underworld is indicated, and the Lion, type of the diurnal Sun, is placed in the lower part of the design to show that the flaming sun of day has sunk beneath the horizon. By the leonine sun, is his ally the raging Dog-star, Set-Sothis, Kuôn-Seirios, Sirius, the 'Scorching.' Conversely, the Lizard, emblem of the moisture and dews of night, and as such slain by the Hellenik Sun-god Apollôn Sauroktonos, 1 is placed in the north, that is in the height of the nocturnal heaven. The Thunderbolt, which comes from the sky, also appears high in heaven. To the east, his head close on the horizon-line, stands the Cock, the solar bird of day; immediately above him and due east is the Serpent-of-light, a solar creature in Kamic symbolism and the creeping dawn-gleam in Hellenik. Above the Serpent is the Goose volant, its neck stretched towards the sun and flying from east to west. It represents the Soul of the Osirian which is said to 'cackle like a goose,' 2 to fly, and to 'alight on the road of the west of the horizon,' flying towards the Sun-god Uasar-Osiris. Near the western horizon ready to seize the sinking sun is his Scorpion-daughter the Darkness. 3 The Phallus, placed below

p. 82

the horizon, illustrates the secret power of the sun in the renewal of the face of the world, and is winged in order to identify it with the solar orb.

According to M. Paul Pierret (whose opinion on the matter I do not dispute), the leonto-kephalic Kamic goddesses represent the power of the solar eyes. 1

The solar Dionysos, as Pater Bromius, 'the Roarer,' sometimes appears as leonto-kephalic in Mithraic and Gnostic symbols; 2 and in the Bakchai of Euripides the Chorus call upon him to put forth his dreadful might and to appear as a 'flaming lion' (πυριφλέγων λέων). 3

The river Nile was regarded as an emanation from the kosmic Sun-god Osiris, 4 and hence is called by Homer Diipetes, 5 'Sky-fallen,' as descended from the solar Lion. Hence the usual type of leonto-kephalic fountain-pipes, an idea which does not merely depend on the Sun being in Leo at the time of the inundation, for the zodiacal Leo is not an archaic Kamic constellation, and still less on the alleged contemporaneous appearance of lions in the country. Mr. King mentions an Etruscan example which shows 'figures in regular Babylonian costume, worshipping before a fountain discharging itself out of a colossal

p. 83

lion's head into a basin, a palm tree in the midst.' 1 Fipeke is 'the name of an Etruscan lion-headed monster, with water flowing from his mouth.' 2 He is said to have been combated by Herakles, perhaps as a rival sun-god. The Lion-sun draws up the waters of the earth and sends them down again.

The Lion and Sun form the familiar national standard of Persia, and a Persian coin given by Tavernier 3 shows the sun horned and radiate rising over the back of a lion. In the later period of the solar Mithras-cult 'the superior officials were styled Lions; hence the rites themselves are often designated as Leontica.' 4

The leonto-kephalic Serpent radiate is a familiar design in Gnostic and other gems which form that large division classed by Montfaucon under the heading Abraxas. Sometimes seven stars, sometimes the sun and moon are in the field. The head often has seven rays. The Lion is occasionally shown in full; one example 5 gives the eight-rayed solar star beneath him, and the crescent-moon high in heaven.

Another interesting example of the Lion-sun is shown on a gem 6 which represents the Lion, over whom is the eight-rayed solar star, swallowing headfirst a large bee. The Bee is a creature especially connected with the happy and peaceful earth-life of growth and increase, and so finds a prominent place

p. 84

in the symbolism of the great nature-goddess Artemis-Ephesia-Polymastos, whose chief priest was. called Essên, the King-bee. 1 The bee-swallowing Lion is the raging Athamas consuming the nourishing vegetation of the earth, whose happy voice is uplifted in the 'murmuring of innumerable bees.' 2

The last instance of the connexion between Sun and Lion which I shall mention is the zodiacal Leo, the Akkadio-Assyrian Sign of the month Abu, Aramaic Ab (July-August), the Akkadian name of which is Ab ab-gar, 'Fire-that-makes-fire,' the period of the full sway of the burning Athamas-Tammuz. I have treated of the original connexion between the Sun and the Signs in a separate monograph. 3

Subsection 2. The Contest.

SUCH, then, being the characteristics of the mythological Lion and Unicorn, they are, like the Lion and the Leopard, naturally antagonistic; and their contest is the converse of that of these two latter animals. As the Lion, fast in the cave, is gnawed to death by the Leopard who comes round behind him, so the Unicorn when rushing at the Lion sticks his horn fast in a mythic Tree behind which his opponent has taken refuge, and the Lion coming round devours him whilst thus defenceless. This incident of the

p. 85

story, when taken in connexion with the Leopard-myth, shows that no real animal has supplied a foundation for the belief. Spencer thus gives the legend;—

     'Like as a Lyon whose imperial powre
     A prowd rebellious unicorn defyes,
     T’avoid the rash assault and wrathful stowre
     Of his fiers foe, him to a tree applyes,
     And when him ronning in full course he spyes,
     He slips aside; the whiles that furious beast
     His precious home, sought of his enemyes,
     Strikes in the stocke, ne thence can be releast,
But to the mighty victor yields a bounteous feast.' 1

Malone, commenting on the passage, 'Unicorns may be betray’d with trees,' 2 quotes Bussy D’Ambois, 1607;—

'An angry unicorne in his full career
 Charge with too swift a foot a jeweller
 That watch’d him for the treasure of his brow,
 And ere he could get shelter of a tree,
 Nail him with his rich antler to the earth.'

On the passage 'Wert thou the Unicorn, pride and wrath would confound thee, and make thine own self the conquest of thy fury,' 3 Sir Thos. Hanmer quotes from Gesner, History of Animals, 'The Unicorn and the Lion being enemies by nature, as soon as the lion sees the unicorn he betakes himself to a tree: the unicorn in his fury, and with all the swiftness of his course, running at him, sticks his horn fast in the tree, and then the lion falls upon him and kills him.'

p. 86

Schliemann gives a representation of a gold plate from Mykênê with a design which he says 'represents a lion chasing a stag; the fore feet of the former are in a horizontal line to show the great speed with which he is running; he has just overtaken the stag, which sinks down before him, and his jaws are wide open to devour it. The representation of the stag which has no horns, is clumsy and indistinct.' 1 This is not a correct description of the design; the so-called stag, half of which only is shown, has a head and neck like that of a horse, and a peculiar crest not unlike that with which the Gryphon is at times supplied. I rather think that it has also one short horn, and far from sinking down, or flying, as might be implied from Schliemann's description, it awaits the lion's charge with lowered head, and is apparently the larger animal of the two. I do not assert that the design represents the contest of Lion and Unicorn, but it certainly bears a great resemblance to this famous duel.

The myth is of course very easy to explain in the light of the foregoing considerations. The Lion-sun flies from the rising Unicorn-moon and hides behind the Tree or Grove of the Underworld; 2 the Moon pursues and, sinking in her turn, is caught in this mysterious Tree and sun-slain. So, curiously enough, we read in a Babylonian Astrological tablet, Sin Samsa 3 la 4 yu-ci-va; na-an-dhur aryai 5 u akhi6

p. 87

[paragraph continues] 'The Moon the Sun does not face; appearance of lions and hyaenas.' 1 So, again;—'The Moon and Sun with one another are seen: king to king hostility sends.' 2 'The Sun in the place where the Moon set is fixed.' 3 So some Families who bear the Unicorn as Arms or Crest have such mottoes as 'Tenez le droit,' 'Cassis tutissima virtus,' etc. Moonlight as involving comparative cold and frigidity, not unnaturally connects the Moon in idea with chastity.

Subsection 3. The Grove of the Underworld.

As the Lion is caught in the straightness of a cave, so the Unicorn is caught in a Tree; and I will first briefly notice the mythic statements respecting this Tree and its reduplication as a Grove, and secondly consider the meaning of the occult myth.

First, then, as to the Tree-myth: the Tree constantly comes before us in connexion with the Unicorn in archaic art, 4 and in addition to the foregoing instances, I may mention a very remarkable gold signet-ring found by Schliemann at Mykênê, 5 on which is shown the conventional Tree 'whose stem certainly resembles that of a palm; it has fifteen short branches on which we see no leaves, but large clusters of a small fruit, each cluster resembling a

p. 88

pine apple.' One savant regards it as a pine, another as a breadfruit-tree, another as a clumsy representation of a vine; but it is none of these, being merely the conventional Tree of the myth, which in art has passed as far westwards as Mykênê, and is often a palm (Euphratean type) or poplaresque (Kamic type), the two being found jointly under Phoenician Influence. The types of the Sacred Tree of Assyria are now very familiar to us from the works of Assyriologists and otherwise; in some instances divinities stand or kneel on each side of it. 'A sacred tree, an ox, a bee' 1 were special Babylonian symbols. 2 Thus a Babylonian Cylinder 3 gives 'Sacred Tree, Seated Figure on each side, and Serpent in background,' a combination which links it with the Biblical Tree of Life; 4 and an Assyrian Cylinder 5 shows 'Sacred Tree, or Grove, with attendant Cherubim.' A Kamic representation 6 gives 'the cypress 7 shades guarded by fire-breathing uraei,' the solar-serpents of good; in these secure retreats 'the bodies of the just await their ultimate revivification.' The symbolical trees are in each case trees of the country where the myth originated.

Pherekydes 8 of Syros, a writer of reputed Phoenician descent and whose works show the strongest

p. 89

[paragraph continues] Oriental influence, says;—'Zas [Zeus] makes a veil large and beautiful, and works on it Earth and Ogên, 1 and the palace of Ogên;' 2 and this veil which is identical with the starry peplos of Harmonia, the bride of Kadmos 'the Easterner,' i.e., the Sun, 3 whose marriage with stellar space completes kosmic order, the god hangs on a winged oak (ἡ ὑπόπτερος δρῦς) M. Maury well observes on the myth, 'C’est là évidemment une image de la voûte du firmament, souvent figurée par un voile, et auquel un arbre est donné pour support. Il y a là une conception toute semblable à celle de l’arbre Yggdrasil de la mythologie scandinave, dont les racines s’étendent jusqu’au Niflheim et dont la tige s’élève dans les cieux.' 4 At Ragnarok 'The-Twilight-of-the-gods,' the conclusion of the present state of things, the gigantic kosmic ash-tree Yggdrasil groans, trembles, and is set on fire; but a man and woman Lifthrasir ('Life-raiser'), and Lif ('Life') are preserved amid the general destruction in a sacred grove called Hoddmimir's Holt, 5 which M. Darmesteter calls the 'bois Hoddmimir équivalent du frène Yggdrasil,' 6 a statement that is correct in a certain sense but not absolutely. Hoddmimir signifies 'Circle-Mimir' or 'Sphere-Mimir,' that

p. 90

is to say, the physical Mimir 1 or ocean like the Midhgardhsormr (Great-sea-serpent), encircles the earth, and when the latter is consumed Lifthrasir and Lif are safely conveyed across ocean to the far ocean-grove, which we find in Homer;—'When thou hast sailed in the ship across the stream Okeanos [Hoddmimir], where are groves of Persephoneia [the Queen of the Underworld], poplars and willows.' 2 Stesichoros, 3 B.C. 632-552, tells how Halios (Eëlios, Helios), Hyperiôn's son, i.e., son of the Climbing Sun of morning, like the Vedic Yama found out the way to the happy world which is in the west; and sailed in his golden boat-cup, which he afterwards lent to his 'dedoublement' Herakles, o’er ocean to see his dear ones in the sacred laurel 4 grove; and Mr. Ruskin, following Pindar, 5 tells us that the Greeks 'had sometimes a prophet to tell them of a land "where there is sun alike by day and alike by night, where they shall need no more to trouble the earth by strength of hands for daily bread, but the ocean breezes blow around the blessed islands, and golden flowers burn on their bright trees for evermore."' 6 These abodes form the western Garden of the Hesperides, where are the golden solar apples of life that resemble the fruit shown on the Conventional Tree, and were guarded in the unseen

p. 91

world by the 'monster serpent or dragon' of darkness which, like the Norse Nidhoggr ('Gnawing serpent') coils around the roots of the Sacred Tree. These sacred trees appear rudely marked on many of the whorls found by Dr. Schliemann on the site of Troy, 1 and the solar Dionysos as the renewer of the life and growth of the earth, is Dendrites, 2 'Lord-of-the-Tree,' in accordance with the imagery of the Hebrew poet-prophet, 'As the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.' 3 Palm trees grew around the sacred 'square enclosure' of Perseus at Khemi 'in the Thebaic canton;' 4 and the circumstance connects this Perseus with the Semitic and Persian East. 5 The Sacred Grove with poplaresque trees appeared in reality within the temenos of many Kamic temples. It is unnecessary to add further instances.

The myth is not either specially Aryan or specially Semitic, and the Tree represents the principle of life, whilst the whole Kosmos is regarded as a mighty tree; but life is constantly being renewed from sources secret and invisible to us, especially from the Underworld, which not only represents 'the fatness of the earth beneath,' but is the 'highly mysterious cavern' where the great solar-light-bringer and life-stimulator perpetually returns. Hence, in this unknown region which the living tread not and where the sources of life are treasured up, there must by

p. 92

analogy be a Tree (the earthly symbol of life), trees. a grove, a happy garden, a paradise, 1 'where souls do couch on flowers,' for man ends not at death; and in this Tree the expiring Crescent-moon, caught by her horn, pales and dies before the Sun as he goeth forth in his strength. All discord is 'harmony not understood;' the apparent contest of nature is in reality but the tranquil course of nature.

'Aye keeping their eternal track,
   The deities of old
Went to and fro, and there and back,
   In boats of starry gold.' 2

The sun is established for ever, the moon is 'a faithful witness in heaven,' the dragon-darkness is trampled under the feet of light; 3 nay, the scorpion of night, subdued to peacefulness, guards the hidden sun through the hours of gloom; and man, recognising his covenant-keeping Creator, thanks God and takes courage.

For, as is the world without, so is the world within; and the storms and splendours of nature find

p. 93

apt parallels in the conflicts and glories of the Soul, 'greatest of things created.' 1 Individual circumstances, if either distinctly happy or the reverse, tend somewhat to confuse the mental vision; we can get but one view of a particular prospect from one place, and we can be but in one place at a time. Yet however we may bend and reel beneath the blast of circumstance, nay, may 'falter where we firmly trod,' still, to use the noble words of a living sage, 'in health the mind is presently seen again—its overarching vault bright with galaxies of immutable lights, and the warm loves and fears that swept over us as clouds, must lose their finite character and blend with God, to attain their own perfection. But we need not fear that we can lose anything by the progress of the [noble] soul. That which is so beautiful [alike in nature and in man] must be succeeded and supplanted only by what is more beautiful, and so on for ever.'


79:1 Vide sec. III. Nos. XXIII. XXV.; sec. XI.

79:2 Gk. Harmachis.

79:3 Ap. Prof. Lushington in R.P. viii. 134. So the Sun is said to 'give blasts of flame from his mouth' (F.R. cap. xvii).

79:4 Ap. Lenormant, Chaldean Magic, 170.

79:5 Rig-Veda, III. ii. 11.

80:1 Vide F.R., cap. xvii.

80:2 Vide Pierret, Le Panthéon Égyptien, 86.

80:3 Cap. lxiv., one of the oldest chapters of the Ritual.

80:4 F.R., cap. xvii. The expression shows the Sun regarded as the principle of life and renewal.

80:5 Recueil d’Antiquités, vol. vi. pl. xxxviii. fig. 3.

81:1 Similarly, as Apollôn Smintheus, he slays the Mouse (Sk. mûsh, Gk. and Lat. mus, i.e., 'Thief') of darkness.

81:2 F.R., cap. xvii.

81:3 Vide sec. III., No. XVII.

82:1 Essai sur la Mythologie Égyptienne, 1879, p. 77; vide also Grébaut, Des deux yeux du Disque Solaire.

82:2 Vide King, The Gnostics, 54, 101; R. B. Jr., G.D.M. ii. 62.

82:3 Bakchai, 1078.

82:4 Νεῖλου Ὀσίριδος ἀπορρόην (Plutarch, Peri Is. xxxviii.).

82:5 Od. iv. 477.

83:1 A.G.R. i. 168, note.

83:2 Prof. Sayce in Cooper's Archaic Dict. In voc.

83:3 Travels in Persia, i. 50.

83:4 King, The Gnostics, 59.

83:5 Montfaucon, vol. ii. pt, ii. pl. cxlix. fig. 1.

83:6 Ibid., pl. cxlviii. fig. 5.

84:1 Vide K. O. Müller, Doric Race, i. 403-4.

84:2 Vide G.D.M. i. 401 et seq.

84:3 For further detail respecting the leonine sun, vide R.P. Knight, Symbolical Language of Ancient Art and Mythology, edit. 1876, pps. 75, 97, 112; R. B. Jr., G.D.M. ii. 61.

85:1 Faerie Queene, II. v. 10.

85:2 Julius Caesar, ii. 1.

85:3 Timon of Athens, iv. 3.

86:1 M. and T., 308-9, Vide sec. III., No. XXXIII.

86:2 Vide subsec. 3.

86:3 Heb.‏שֶׁמֶשׁ‎

86:4 Heb. ‏לאׁ‎

86:5 Heb. ‏אֲרָיוֹת‎

86:6 Heb. ‏אׂחִים‎ (Isaiah, xiii. 21.)

87:1 T.S.B.A. iii. 305. It will be observed that Hebrew is a dialect of the Semitic Babylonio-Assyrian.

87:2 W.A.I. III. lviii., 1-2, ap. Prof. Sayce.

87:3 Ibid. III. lxiv. Rev. 22.

87:4 Vide Frontispiece; sec. III., Nos. I. II. III. VI. VIII. XII. XIII. XVIII. XXVII.; sec. VI.

87:5 M. and T., fig. 530, p. 354.

88:1 A.M. iii. 32.

88:2 As to the Bee, vide subsec. 1.

88:3 Smith, C.A.G., 88.

88:4 Vide Menant, La Bible et les Cylindres Chaldéens, 8.

88:5 C.A.G., 85.

88:6 Cooper, Serpent Myths of Anct. Egypt, fig. 33, p. 19.

88:7 Vide Lajard, Sur le Culte du Cyprès pyramidal.

88:8 Vide p. 53.

89:1 Cf. Ogyges, Ogre, and the Norse Oegir, 'the Dread.'

89:2 Ap. Clem. Alex. Stromata, vi. 2.

89:3 Kadmos of course also represents Semitic colonisation (vide G.D.M., cap. X. sec. ii., Kadmos and Thebai).

89:4 Histoire des Religions de la Grèce Antique, iii. 253. Vide also Lenormant, Les Origines, i. 568.

89:5 For an account and explanation of the Ragnarok-myth, vide R. B. Jr. R.M.A., 35 et seq.

89:6 O et A, 299.

90:1 The mental Mimir is 'memory,' wisdom; cf. Sk. root mi, to measure, judge, observe; Lat. memor, Ang.-Sax. meomer.

90:2 Od. x. 508.

90:3 Ap. Athenaios, xi. 4.

90:4 I.e., 'bright' grove. 'The dawn was called δάφνη, the burning, so was the laurel as wood that burns easily' (Prof. M. Müller, L.S.L., ii. 549, note. Cf. Philodaphnos as an epithet if Apollôn and Dionysos).

90:5 Olymp., ii.

90:6 Q.A. i. 50.

91:1 Troy and its Remains, pl. xxxiv.

91:2 Pindar, Frag. cxxx.; Plout. Peri Is. xxxv.

91:3 Isaiah, lxv. 12.

91:4 Herod. ii. 91.

91:5 Vide sec. VII.

92:1 The Iranian pairidaêza, 'enclosure.'

92:2 Gerald Massey, A Book of the Beginnings, i. 310.

92:3 Vide Clermont-Ganneau, Horus et Saint Georges; Baring-Gould, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, S. George. So in this year's Royal. Academy, apropos of Sir J. Gilbert's picture Fair St. George, we read; 'Smiting the dragon with his [solar] spear [of light], he was sorely wounded and thrown down. Then St. George called to the Princess [his love and bride the Dawn] to bind her girdle [cf. the Kredemnon of Inô, sec. VIII.] about the dragon's neck and not to be afeared. The dragon followed as it had been a meek beast and debonayre.' Day and night, light and darkness, contended no longer; kosmic order was restored, and 'the raven-down of darkness' was 'smoothed' 'till it smiled.'

93:1 F.R. lxxiii.

Next: Abbreviations