Offbeat Unicorn

For those who like unicorns with sharp hooves and mystery

Oh, look…a unicorn. Wait! Where?

Psalter., opening, Folio  fol. 191v-192r.jpg

Portable Benedictine Psalter., opening, Folio #: fol. 191v-192r. Ghent. 1320. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 

Oh…there you are, top left.

Psalter., opening, Folio fol. 191v-192r-DETAIL

There’s so much going on! How were we supposed to spot him when there’s also a monkey-man playing the bagpipe and a goatfish filling up some space between the lines. The artist continues his doodling on another page…


Portable Benedictine Psalter., opening, Folio #: fol. 213v-214r. Ghent. 1320.Bodleian Library, University of Oxford,

How are we supposed to notice? Maybe we aren’t, in particular. What I like about these unicorns is that they aren’t exceptional.

Rather, these unicorns are so part of the mythical landscape of a culture that they just wander through the pages of manuscripts. They’re used as space fillers competing with deer and legless trumpeters for your readerly attention. (Because, somewhere, in all this busyness, you are supposed to collect your thoughts and pray, harhar.)

Grumblers will say that the marginal unicorn below (from an Arthurian text) is at least on-theme. But it’s fun to think of unicorns seamlessly lurking in the fourteenth-century person’s imagination.


Lancelot Cycle, Branch 3., Folio #: fol. 017v. 14th century, beginning. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford,

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