White horse of European folklore with a large, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead. Its horn is said to have the power to cure illness and can make poisoned water, drinkable. In some descriptions, the Unicorn also possesses a goat's beard and cloven hooves. Its popularity stems form the Middle Ages and the Renaissance when it became the symbol for purity and grace--- only to be seen and captured by a virgin.
Though Unicorns are first mentioned in the texts of Ancient Greece, the creatures are not part of Greek mythology, but in the factual accounts of history-- for the writers of Greek natural history believed Unicorns to actually exist. The earliest account is from Ctesias (Greek physician and historian who lived during the 5th century, B.C.) who described them as "wild asses, fleet of foot, having a horn a cubit and a half in length and colored white, red and black."
The horn, itself, referred to as alicorn, was a substance that held magical and medicinal properties. Fake alicorn powder (made from the tusks of narwhals) was sold in Europe for medicinal purposes-- believing the alicorn powder had the power to heal and detect poisons, physicians would make cures from the narwhal tusks and sell them.
Connected as they are to the purity and innocence of maidens-- Unicorns were said to relinquish their ferocity and wild nature if they happened upon a seated maiden. The animal would timidly approach the young girl/woman and fall asleep in her lap-- making them susceptible to capture by hunters.
Step Softly As Snow
Quiet, listen, make not a sound,
there's magic afoot, if you just look around.
Timid and wild and fierce in its stance,
he'll bask in your presence, if you give him a chance.
Careful and gentle, step softly as snow,
sit still 'neath the willow, near the river's sweet flow.
He'll nestle beside, if pure maiden you be,
none other shall tame him, none other shall see.