SEOUL – An apparent North Korean claim to have uncovered a “unicorn’s lair” that created an Internet storm was partly the result of a mistranslation by Pyongyang’s propaganda machine.
In a report carried on its English service last week, the official Korean Central News Agency cited archaeologists who “reconfirmed” the discovery of “a lair of the unicorn” ridden by King Tongmyong, a quasi-mythical figure credited with founding Kokuryo, one of the three ancient kingdoms of Korea, in 37 B.C.
The KCNA item was reported by sections of the foreign media as a claim by Pyongyang to have proved the existence of unicorns. But the original Korean text suggests the archaeologists were trumpeting the discovery of a site associated with the Tongmyong legend — not proving its factual base in history.
“An ancient poem says that is the place where King Tongmyong’s unicorn lived and where the king is said to have ascended to the heaven on the unicorn’s back,” said Noh Tae Don, a history professor at Seoul National University. “What they are saying is that they have found a site associated with this legend.”
Like others before it, the “unicorn” report served a distinct propaganda purpose. The discovery of the site, KCNA concluded, “proves that Pyongyang was a capital city of ancient Korea.” The North has always argued that Pyongyang, and not Seoul, is the true historical capital of Korea and cradle of Korean civilization.