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Pierre Pomet was a French pharmacist who was born in 1658 in Paris and died in 1699.


Histoire Générale Des Drogues, b. 1 of Animals, ch. 2[]

French original[]

English translation (John Hill, 1748)[]

Pierre Pomet Complete History of Drugs unicorns.jpg
Of the Unicorn.

The Unicorn is an Animal which Naturalists describe under the Figure of a Horse, having in the Middle of his Head a spiral Horn, of two or three Feet long; but as we know not the real Truth of this Matter to this Day, I shall only say, that what we fell under the Name of the Unicorn's Horn, is the Horn of a certain Fish, by the Islanders called Narwal, or the Sea-Unicorn, as you will find when we come to treat of Fish. This Horn was formerly in great Esteem, because of the mighty Virtues attributed to it by the Antients, especially against Poisons, which is the Reason that many great Personages have been very fond of it; so that it has been values at its Weight in Gold. And there are yet some People, who esteem it as highly.

Ambrose Paræus, in a little Treatise which he wrote of the Unicorn, says, That in the Deserts of Arabia are wild Asses, which they call Camphurs, carrying a Horn in their Front, with which they used to fight against the Bulls, and which the Indians made use of to cure several Diseases, especially such as came by Poison; and that the Arabs near the Red Sea had another Animal among them, which those People called Pirassoupi, that has two Horns, long, straight, and spiral, which the Arabs make use of when they are wounded, or bit by any venomous Creature.

They let this infuse six or eight Hours in Water, which they drink to cure them. He says, that this Animal is of the Size of a Mule, which also it resembles in its Head; and that the Body is hairy like a Bear, a little inclining to a fallow Colour, and the Hoof divided or cleft like the Deer's. Johnston says, in his Treatise of Animals, that there are other Unicorns; to whom the Reader may have recourse.

However, that the Unicorn is a Beast having but one Horn, all agree; but because there are five several Kinds of Beasts which have also but one single Horn, it is some Question which of them be the true. They are, First, The Orix, or one-horn'd wild Goat. Secondly, The one horn'd Ox. Thirdly, The Hart with one Horn. Fourthly, The one-horn'd Hog. And, Fifthly, the one-horn'd Ass. The first is certainly but a kind of one-horn'd wild Goat, the Description of it differing not much from a Goat. It resembles a Roe, having a Beard under its Chin, of a palish white Colour, and is cloven hoofed, with one Horn growing out of the Middle of its Head. These are bred in Ægypt, Æthiopia, and many other Parts of the World, some of them are as large as Oxen. Their Horns are not only strong and sharp, like the Horns of a Rhinoceros, but also solid, and not hollow or porous, like the Horns of Harts. This Creature is said not to value the Barking of the Dog, the Foaming of the Bear, the Bellowing of the Bull, the Cry of the Panther, or the Roaring of the Lion.

The one-horn'd Ox, Bull, or Cow, is bred in Aonia, of various Colours, intermix'd one with another, having a whole round Hoof, like a Horse, and but one Horn growing out of the Middle of the Forehead: It is also bred in India, where the whole Species eat Flesh, and are whole-hoof'd, and have only a single Horn, which grows out of the Middle of their Foreheads. Some of them are said to be as high as Camels, and their Horn four Feet long. There arc also in Æthiopia, a kind, of a purple Colour, which have but one Horn growing out of their Heads, which turns up towards their Backs.

The Unicorn Hart is a Beast bred also in India, whose Feet resemble an Elephant's; the Body, a young Horse, and its Head, a Hart's; out of the Middle of which grows a Horn about three Feet long. It has a roaring Voice almost like a Bull, but much shriller.

The Unicorn Hog is so called from his Head, being like a Boar's or Hog's Head, found, as some Authors say, in the Dominions of the Great Cham of Tartary. This Species of Unicorn is somewhat less than the Elephant; they have Hair like Oxen, Heads like Hogs, Feet like Elephants, a sharp and thorny Tongue, and a Horn in the midst of the Forehead, wherewith they destroy both Man and Beast. Had this Horn grown out of its Snout, it would have been a Rhinoceros; but as it does not, it must be taken for one of the Kinds of Unicorns.

The one-horn'd Ass is the Indian Ass, which equals in Bigness a Horse; all white on the Body, but purple-headed and black-eyed, having one Horn in his Forehead, near three Feet long, whose upper Part is red or black, the Middle black, and the nether Part white. In these the great People of India drink, adorning them with all kind of precious things, believing that those who drink in these Horns are freed from any sort of deadly Poison or Infection. This Ass, or Unicorn, exceeds all others of the Kind, both in Stature, Body, and Swiftness of Foot. They are so strong that no Horse can stand before them, and fight with their single Horn like Bulls.

The true Unicorn, if you dare believe Ludovicus Vertomanus, who says he saw two of them at Meccha in Arabia, which were kept within the Verge of Mahomet's Sepulchre, is of a Weasel Colour, with the Head like that of a Hart, the Neck not long, and the Mane growing all on one Side; the Legs slender and lean, like the Legs of a Hind; their Hoofs cloven like Goat's Feet, and the hinder Legs all hairy and shaggy on the Outside. Of all the other five the wild Indian Ass comes nearest to this Description; for the true Unicorn and he agree in these four things: First, That both of them have one Horn in the Middle of the Forehead. Secondly, That both of them are bred in India. Thirdly, In that they are both about the Bigness of a Horse. Fourthly, In their Celerity and solitary Life in the Mountains. But herein they differ; First, In that the one-horned wild Indian Ass is whole-hoofed, and not cloven, as the Unicorn is. Secondly, That his Colour is white on the Body, and purple on the Head; whereas the Unicorn is of Weasel-like Colour. Thirdly, That his Horns are purple, black, and white; whereas the Unicorn's Horn is wreathed in Spires and of an Ivory Colour. In the Year 1553, a great Unicorn's Horn was brought to the King of France valued at twenty thousand Pounds Sterling. That which was presented to King Charles the First of England, is suppos'd to be one of the greatest that was ever seen in the World; it was seven Feet long, weighed thirteen Pounds, and was in the Shape of a Wax Candle, but wreathed within itself in Spires; hollow about a Foot from its Root, growing taper by little and little towards the Point; of a polished Smoothness, and the Spires not deep, but like the Windings of Woodbine, and the Colour not perfectly white, but somewhat obscure.

Some in Poland have been found five or six Feet long, being very sharp and smooth: Others in the Rivers, but less pure, outwardly blackish, and inwardly of a pure white; a third and fourth Sort of a solid hard Substance, so that one would take them to be Stone; and many other Sorts have been found in that Country. But that these, or any of the others, were true Unicorns Horns, none of our Authors have yet made appear; and if all the Circumstances be considered, it is much to be doubted whether any of them were the right or not; forasmuch as the Druggists of Apothecaries were never known to have or sell the true, that which is commonly sold being from five to eight Foot in Length and more, very sharp-pointed, running taper all along, and twisted or wreathed, of the Colour of Ivory, but of a much finer Grain, and very white within. Yet this Horn is not produced by a four footed Beast, but comes from a Fish called the Sea Unicorn, and is brought from Davis's Streights near the North Passage.

Authors have ascribed almost incredible Things to it, the chiefest of which are, to resist all Manners of Poisons, and to cure the Plague, with all Sorts of malignant Fevers, the Biting of Serpents, mad Dogs, &c. It is chiefly used as a Cordial, for which Purpose a Jelly is made of it, together with a little Cochineal and Saffron; and the Shavings are boil'd in Broth, &c. after the Manner of Shavings or Hart's Horn.

[The only one-horn'd Land Animal in the World is the Rhinoceros, which therefore is the true Unicorn, however variously describ'd by People who either knew nothing of it but by Hearsay; or had a Mind to tell strange Stories, rather than Truth. The Horn of this Animal is what the Indians use, and have so much in Esteem, taking it inwardly in almost all Diseases, and making Cups of it for their Kings to drink out of, imagining that nothing drank out of them can be poisonous. It is certainly a Sudorifick, probably from the Quantity of volatile Salt it contains, and is commended in Epilepsies, &c. The Rhinoceros is found in Africa, and in the Isle of Java, and is describ'd by Bontius, under the Name of Abada sive Rhinoceros: The Horn is black and solid, and when full grown is about twenty Inches long, and something of the Figure of a Bull's Horn.

The thing called Unicorn's Horn in the Shops, is the Tooth of the Cetus marinus, Narwal dictus. Mont. Ex. 6. Balæna decimum sextum genus dicta Narwal Schones. Jet. 28. It has long been known to belong to this Fish, and has been erroneously thought to be a Horn growing out of its Nose, but is in Reality a Tooth of prodigious Length, growing out of his left upper Jaw: It is like Ivory but more solid and heavy, and its Fibres are smaller. Its Virtues are the same with those of Ivory, Harts-horn Shavings, &c.

The Pieces of this sold in the Shops, are often fictitious, being Pieces of the Bones of the Sea-Horse and other animals, turned into the Shape of this. The fossile Unicorn's Stone is the Cornu fossile. Worm. 54. Charlt. 23. Cornu fossile vulgo Monoceratos cornu Boet. 425. Ebur fossile. Clus. Exot. 168. It is a stony or earthy Substance something resembling Bones, hard on the Outside, softer within, and sticking to the Tongue. It is dug out of the Earth, and has the same Virtues with the Terra Lemnia, and other such Earths.]

Histoire Générale Des Drogues, b. 1 of Animals, ch. 33[]

French original[]

English translation (John Hill, 1748)[]

Pierre Pomet Complete History of Drugs sea-unicorn narwhal.jpg

Of the Narwal, or Sea Unicorn.

The Narwal, so called by the Islanders, and by some other, Rhoar, by us the Sea Unicorn, is a large Fish, which some reckon to be a Sort of Whale; it is found plentifully in the Northern Seas, especially along the Coast of Iceland and Greenland. This Sea-Monster carries at the End of his Nose a white weighty Horn, that is smooth, and of a spiral Figure. It is of different Sizes and Weight, as may be seen in the Cabinets of the Curious; as that of Mr. Morin, Physician to the late Mademoiselle de Guise, which I have seen and handled, and which is represented in the Figure. And Mr. Charas told me, he had one longer and thicker than that in the Treasury of St. Denis. They are the Pieces of this Horn, that we sell at Paris, as they do elsewhere, for the true Unicorn's Horn, to which some people assign large Virtues, which I shall neither authorize nor contradict, having never had sufficient Experience of it.

There is another Fish besides, that they give the Name of the Sea Unicorn too, which is met with in different Parts of the World. Mr. Dumantel says he saw a prodigious one, in an Isle near St. Domingo, in the Year 1644. This Unicorn, says he, pursued a smaller Fish with that Violence, that he threw himself out of the Depth of Water necessary to swim in, and ran himself upon a great Bed of Sand, where half of his Body being uncovered, he could not recover himself to get into the Deep again, and by that means the Inhabitants of the Island took him. This Fish was about eighteen Foot long, and of the Thickness of an Hogshead. About the Middle he had six great Fins, that at the Ends were like Oars; two of them were placed instead of Ears, and the other found along the Belly, at equal Distance, being of a Vermillion Colour; and all the Body was covered with large Scales, as big as a Crown Piece, which were of a Blue, that appeared to be spangled with Silver. Near the Neck the Scales were brownish, more compact and close, and made a sort of Collar; the Scales under the Belly were yellow: The Tail was forked, the Head a little thicker than that of a Horse, and almost of the same Shape; it was covered with a hard brown Skin. And as the Unicorn has a Horn on the Forehead, this Sea Unicorn has one perfectly fine, nine Feet and a half long, that stands directly on his. It is exactly straight, and grows taper from the Front of the Head, or Basis of the Horn, to the Tip, where it is so sharp, that with Force it will drive through the hardest Body. The thick End was about sixteen Inches Circumference; and from hence to about two thirds of this wonderful Horn, it was fashioned like the Screw of a Press, or rather waved in Form of a twisted Column, saving that the Furrows were still lessened until they became altogether smooth about four Feet two Inches from its Original. The Bottom was covered with an ash-coloured Skin, that had on it a little short Hair as soft as Velvet, of a Fillemot Colour, but underneath was as white as Ivory. As to the other Part that appeared altogether bare, it was naturally smooth, and of a shining black, marked with some fine white and yellow Streaks, and so hard, that a good File could scarcely touch it. The Creature had no Ears erected, but two great Gills, as other Fish; the Eyes being the Size of an Hen's Egg. The Apple of the Eye was of a Sky-blue, enameled with Yellow, and surrounded with a Vermillion Circle, that was succeeded by another very clear one, that shone like Crystal. The Mouth, like that of the Horse, was cleft and set with several Teeth; those before being sharp; and the others in the Jaws behind large, and raised with little Bunches. The Tongue was of a proportionable Length and Thickness, which was covered with a rough red Skin.

This prodigious Fish had, besides, upon its Head, a kind of Crown raised above the rest of the Skin two Inches or thereabouts, made in an oval Form, and ending in a Point. Above three Hundred People of the Isle eat plentifully of the Flesh of it, and found it very delicate. It was larded with a white Fat; and being boiled, it parted into Flakes like Cod Fish, but had a much more savory Taste.

The Head and Horn of this Fish were preserved some Time in that Island, but being afterwards made a Present to a curious Person, the Ship in which he was bringing them over was lost, and in it this precious Rarity.

We ought to undeceive those who believe that what we now call the Unicorn's Horn, the Latins, Unicornis, and the Greeks, Monoceros, is the Horn of a Land Animal, whereof mention is made in the Old Testament, since it is nothing else but the Horn of the Narwal, which, as to the Choice of it, ought to be the whitests, largest, and heaviest. Some Time ago these Horns were so rare, that Mr. Racq, a Physician at Florence, said that a German Merchant sold one of them to a Pope for 4500 Livres, which is very much different from what they are at present, sincewe can buy the very finest at a much easier rate.

Narwal, Rhoar, or the Sea Unicorn is a very large Fish, that carries upon his Front a Horn of five or six Feet long, that is heavy, white, smooth, and twisted, being of a spiral Figure, and hollow within, very like Ivory. He carries this for his Defence, and with it will attack the biggest Whales. This Horn affords a great deal of volatile Salt and Oil; is cordial, sudorifick, and proper to resist Infections, and cure Epilepsies. The Dose is from half a Scruple to two Scruples. They wear it also in Amulets hung about the Neck, to preserve them from infectious Air. Those who keep these for Curiosities, have the Horn entire, and chuse the longest and most weighty.

[The Narwal and Unicorn's Horn I have already spoken of in the Chapter of the Unicorn.

As to this other Kind, I am afraid Mr. Dumantel's Story is too strange to be true, no Author of any Credit having ever seen or mentioned any such Fish.]

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