Unicorn Week – Christs’ White Horse

The Golden Legend is a collection of parables published in the 13th Century by James of Viraggio, Archbishop of Genoa, though believed to be an adaptation of a Buddhist parable in India, wherein a preacher named Barlaam was revered as a Christian saint, some believe the unicorn tale to represent an Indian rhino though through the usual confusion it entered western folklore as the unicorn.

I will now relate to you one such story, for your enjoyment.

Once there was a saint named Barlaam who lived in the desert near Senaah and who often preached against the illusory pleasure of the world. Thus he spoke of a man fleeing in haste from a Unicorn who would devour him. Falling into a well, he happened to catch hold of a bush but failed to find a proper foothold. With the raging unicorn glaring down on him from the rim of the well, he caught sight of a dreadful fiery dragon waiting with open maw for him to drop.

From the narrow ledge on which he was teetering, four serpents distend their fangs. A pair of mice, one black and the other white, gnaw away at the roots of the bush itself is about to break off. But as he lifts his eyes, he spots honey dripping from the branches of the bush and, forgetting all about his peril, he surrenders himself fully to the sweetness of the honey. 

The unicorn, as Barlaam expounded in his parable, was death which pursues man everywhere. The well was the world filled with every evil. The bush was human life finally extinguished by the steady erosion of day and night, represented by the mice. The four serpents stand for the human body composed of the four elements which must disintegrate if they become disturbed. The dragon is the bottomless pit of hell threatening to swallow up mankind. But honey is the worldly pleasure to which man surrenders, forgetting all peril. 

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