What unicorns mean to Scottish identity
In a corner of Edinburgh, outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse with its witches’ hat towers and crenellated turrets, 74-year-old tour guide Kenny Hanley can often be found pointing to a little piece of magic atop an ornamental gateway at the residence’s southern approach.
在爱丁堡一隅，荷里路德宫（Palace of Holyroodhouse）有女巫帽形状的尖塔和有垛的塔楼外，人们经常看到74岁的导游汉利（Kenny Hanley）指着宫殿南边装饰性大门上方一个神奇的小物件在讲解。
The focus of his attention is an almost-forgotten stone emblem of the city and country in which he lives, and yet few realise it’s one that teems with meaning, telling an almost unbelievable story about Scotland’s national identity.
Take a step back, and the fuller picture emerges. There’s a second cast-stone figure opposite C a rampant lion, crowned, and holding a ceremonial flag as it stands guard. But Hanley’s gaze remains drawn to the slender, mythical creature wrapped in chains to our right.
The stone is just stone and the lion is just a lion, but this horse-like figure C adorned with a singularly fancy horn on its forehead C is extraordinary. It is a unicorn. And, believe the hype or not, it is Scotland’s national animal.
Until recently, all talk of unicorns belonged in the glitteriest corner of a children’s playroom. Or on a rainbow-coloured cereal box. It’s a subject rarely cerebral enough to merit debate, but these days, wide-eyed unicorns are everywhere.
From cartoons and movies to fashion and social media, they have a bigger role to play in the public consciousness than ever before. To cap it all, there’s now a National Unicorn Day on 9 April. Hashtag #NationalUnicornDay on Instagram and you’ll find yourself entering a world of sparkly cupcakes and multi-coloured memes. Amid this, let’s not forget JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, inspired by many real places in Edinburgh and brimming with stories of magical unicorn blood and unicorn hair-infused wands.
从动画片、电影，到时尚、社交媒体，它们在公众意识中扮演的角色比以往任何时候都重要。4月9日成为苏格兰的国家独角兽日（National Unicorn Day）。在Instagram上输入#NationalUnicornDay的标签，你会发现自己走进了一个充满闪闪发光的纸杯蛋糕和五彩斑斓的“米姆”（meme，也称模因，一种文化传播模式）的世界。此时，不要忘记罗琳（JK Rowling）的《哈利波特》（Harry Potter），创作灵感正是来自爱丁堡很多真实存在的地方，书中有关独角兽具有魔力的血液和用独角兽的毛制成的魔杖的故事比比皆是。
Not that any of that matters to Hanley, who saw his first unicorn more than 60 years ago, when growing up in the city’s Canongate district near the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
“It’s long been a symbol of purity and power, but also of virginity and subtlety,” said Hanley, who works as a Blue Badge guide for the Scottish Tourist Guides Association. “And those values still stand up when thinking about Scotland today. These are characteristics embedded in the Scottish psyche.”
“长久以来，它一直是纯洁、力量、纯真和精巧的象征，”在苏格兰导游协会（Scottish Tourist Guides Association）担任蓝牌导游的汉利说。“如今，想到苏格兰时，这些价值观依然站得住脚。这些是深深印在苏格兰人心里的象征。”
In most countries, the national animal is little more than a consequence of natural history or geography. Australia’s is the red kangaroo and South Africa’s is the springbok. Spain has the bull, while India venerates the Royal Bengal tiger. Canada celebrates the North American beaver, Russia the Eurasian brown bear. Indonesia? The Komodo dragon. Afghanistan? The snow leopard. Scotland? Well, theirs is more in keeping with a once-upon-a-time world.
To the outsider, this all may seem absurd. Yet today there are dozens of places to see the pure-white, mythical horse of fairy tales at large in Edinburgh C and across all of Scotland. Blurring the boundaries between fantasy and reality, you can see reminders of its influence on heraldic crests, engravings, gold coins, royal seals, wall panels, coats of arms, tombs and tapestries.
At the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh Castle, Craigmillar Castle and St Giles’ Cathedral, all in Edinburgh, unicorns are ubiquitous. Move west to Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and there are well-preserved unicorns on an inner courtyard fountain and on what remains of the ceiling. Veer north-west to Stirling Castle and the mythical beast is the focus of the intricate Stirling Tapestries, seven hand-woven recreations of ‘The Unicorn Tapestries’ (one of the most valuable artworks of the late Middle Ages; the originals are now on display at the The Met Cloisters in New York).
在爱丁堡的荷里路德宫、爱丁堡城堡（Edinburgh Castle），克雷格米勒城堡（Craigmillar Castle）和圣吉尔斯大教堂（St Giles' Cathedral），独角兽随处可见。往西来到苏格兰玛丽女王（Mary Queen of Scots）的出生地林利思哥宫（Linlithgow Palace），内庭的喷泉和残存的天花板上都有保存完好的独角兽。往西北方向转身，来到斯特灵城堡（Stirling Castle），这头神兽是精美繁复的斯特灵挂毯（Stirling Tapestries）的核心。斯特灵挂毯是七幅手工编织的“独角兽挂毯”（The Unicorn Tapestries）的复制品。“独角兽挂毯”是中世纪晚期最宝贵的艺术品之一，原件现在纽约修道院博物馆（The Met Cloisters）展出。
And from Aberdeenshire’s Delgatie Castle to Dundee’s HMS Unicorn (Scotland’s oldest surviving wooden warship), via the mercat (or market) crosses of Prestonpans and Glasgow, there are a multitude of cloven-hooved unicorns, crowned at the throat and holding royal cartouches.
从阿伯丁郡（Aberdeenshire）的德尔盖地城堡（Delgatie Castle）到邓迪（Dundee）的“独角兽号战舰”（HMS Unicorn，苏格兰现存最古老的木制战舰），经过普雷斯顿潘（Prestonpans）和格拉斯哥市集广场，都有大量的独角兽。它们脖子上戴着王冠，嘴里衔着皇家勋章。
As a unicorn newbie, I really had no idea where to begin. But the company of one of Scotland’s leading tour guides was as good a place to start as any.
“Everywhere you go in Scotland you can see them,” Hanley told me. “You just need to know where to look. Today, people read history through a 21st-Century lens C be it social media or whatever C and we miss the bigger picture as to how this all came together. Yet there’s a definite thread to follow. The unicorn is a symbol built on an ideology, and learning about it opens doors and surprises you. Even I find it almost unexplainable at times.”
This enigmatic creature has an equally complex and convoluted history that spans some 3,000 years. Considered real by the Ancient Greeks, the horse-like quadrupeds were first mentioned in the 4th Century BC by classical historian Ctesias in Indica, a book on India in which he describes the creature as a ‘wild ass’ with a horn sprouting from its temple.
Belief spread when the unicorn popped up in the Old Testament and references to mythical horses occurred in the Quran (the appearances of which are still wildly debated today), while the existence of other peculiar-looking, flesh-and-blood creatures, such as the rhinoceros, the oryx and the narwhal, did little to dispel the myth. One theory suggests unicorns were flushed off the face of the Earth because they were simply too slow to get onto Noah’s Ark before the flood.
Over time, the creature came to represent Jesus Christ, while others believed it could only be tamed by virgins. By the 12th Century, the unicorn had made its first appearance in Scotland, placed on the royal coat of arms by William I (also known as William the Lion).
According to the National Museum of Scotland, medieval legend further suggests only a king could hold a unicorn captive because of the supposed danger it posed, something that may have given rise to its widespread adoption. What is known is James II wholeheartedly embraced the legend, and the unicorn became the symbol of purity and power that Scottish kings and nobility identified with in the 15th Century. Over time, this led to the unicorn becoming officially recognised as Scotland’s national animal.
据苏格兰国家博物馆（National Museum of Scotland）介绍，中世纪的传说称，因为独角兽很危险，只有国王才能驯服它。这导致独角兽的形象被广泛采用，詹姆斯二世全心相信这个传说，独角兽在15世纪成为苏格兰国王和贵族认同的纯洁和力量的象征。随着时间的推移，独角兽得到官方的认可，成为苏格兰国兽。
What started with James II flourished through a succession of his ancestors C notably James III, James IV and his grandson James V C who ensured its appearance on coins, royal seals and coats of arms. Indeed, the Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland, used prior to 1603 before the Union of the Crowns (the accession of James VI of Scotland to the thrones of England and Ireland), was supported by not one, but two unicorns.
从詹姆斯二世开始的传统被他的连续几任继任者发扬光大，尤其是詹姆斯三世、詹姆斯四世和詹姆斯五世，他们把独角兽印在在硬币、皇家印章和盾徽上。在1603年的王室联合（Union of the Crowns）时期，苏格兰的詹姆斯六世登上英格兰和爱尔兰的王位之前，苏格兰皇室盾徽上是两只独角兽，而不是一只独角兽。
Despite such evocative history, the mythical beast remains misunderstood, at least according to one fervent Scottish believer. Liam Devlin is Scotland’s official Unicorn Pursuivant, a badge of office for the Court of the Lord Lyon, which helps bring order to matters of Scottish heraldry. Devlin, now in his fourth year in the role, believes the unicorn’s true meaning is getting lost in metaphor.
尽管有如此令人回味的历史，但仍有狂热的苏格兰信徒认为，人们对独角兽这种神秘动物存在误解。德夫林（Liam Devlin）是苏格兰官方的独角兽纹章官（Unicorn Pursuivant），这是协助管理苏格兰纹章事务的莱昂纹章官（Court of the Lord Lyon）下属的一个职位。已上任四年的德夫林认为，独角兽真正的含义正消失在隐喻中。
“Its significance is being damaged by politicians [around the world, particularly when it comes to Brexit] who use it as an image of uncertainty and fanciful thinking,” said Devlin, who is also a Knight of Malta and a member of The Heraldry Society of Scotland. “Some Scottish nationalists also think the unicorn’s chains symbolise our subjugation from England. But that’s nonsense. The chains predate the Acts of Union in 1707 [that led to the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain] and show the savage nature of the beast C it is not My Little Pony with a horn. So it would be good to administer a history lesson to these unpatriotic politicians.”
“它的重要性正在被世界各地的政客削弱，尤其是在英国脱欧问题上，他们把它当作一种象征不确定性和异想天开的形象，”同时也是马耳他骑士和苏格兰纹章协会（The Heraldry Society of Scotland）会员的德夫林说。“一些苏格兰民族主义者还认为独角兽身上的锁链象征着英格兰对我们的征服，但这完全是无稽之谈。锁链的出现早于1707年的《联合法案》（Acts of Union，该法案促成了大不列颠联合王国（United Kingdom of Great Britain）的成立。身上的锁链表现的是独角兽的暴烈野性，它可不是长角的小马驹。因此，给这些不爱国的政客上一堂历史课是必须的。”
For the best part of three decades, another Scot, 72-year-old John Donaldson, has worked to bring unicorns back into the national conversation through art. The self-taught woodcarver has added to the architectural and heraldic legacy of the country in a way that no-one else has C and his works are beyond staggering.
In particular, Donaldson worked with Historic Environment Scotland on the seven-year refurbishment of Stirling Castle, recreating the magnificent Stirling Heads C 16th-Century oak medallions carved with images of kings, queens and nobles C as well as a 1.8m by 1.2m ceiling boss of King James V’s crest and coat of arms for the King’s Bed Chamber. Unicorns, of course, are front and centre.
尤其是，唐纳森与苏格兰历史环境局（Historic Environment Scotland）合作，用七年的时间修复斯特林城堡，复原华丽的斯特林头像（Stirling Heads）――16世纪时用橡树雕刻的圆形国王、王后和贵族头像。他还修复了1.8米乘1.2米的詹姆斯五世国王徽章和国王卧室盾徽凸饰。当然，独角兽都是核心。
“It’ll be on the ceiling for hundreds of years and it’s a great legacy to leave behind for Scotland,” he told me. “This story shouldn’t be relegated to our past, because it’s a distinct part of our heritage, and our past is our future. People come here to see history, and whether that’s castles or unicorns, it’s a major attraction and part of our national fabric. It’s who we are.”
So, should you visit Stirling Castle or stand gazing upon a mercat cross, you may find yourself pointing to a little piece of magic, too. And amid the reality C maybe, just maybe C you might see the unicorn, Scotland’s venerated animal, in a whole different light.