Friday, December 7, 2007

The Most Beautiful.

To me the fractured mess of tangled bones and awestruck hope/confusion is the most lonely and beautiful unicorn I've come across.


As is usual with such brutes, its posterior parts were very low and its head raised. Its forehead bore a horn nearly five ells long, as thick as a man's thigh but gradually tapering. Because of the ignorance and carelessness of the diggers, the skeleton was broken and extracted in pieces. However, the horn, which was attached to the head, several ribs, and the backbone were brought to the abbess of the town.
The fact that the horn was attached to a fragment of bone was one of the strongest points in favor of the interpretation that this was indeed a unicorn skeleton.

To modern eyes, Leibniz's unicorn looks preposterous. There are obvious problems with the skeleton as assembled, beginning with the glaring lack of hind legs and the resulting extreme slope of the backbone, which juts at a 45 degree angle from the skull so that the tailbone rests directly on the ground. More subtly, the bones are put together wrong, with the spinal column backward so that the skull and neck vertebrae are attached to the tail end. Finally, the bones come from more than one kind of animal. The skeleton in the drawing has since been identified as a mix of rhinoceros and mammoth bones. The unicorn's horn is likely to be a young mammoth's tusk: These long teeth are straight and grow out of the jawbone, thus explaining the bone fragment at the base of the "unicorn horn."


I love it.

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