Salamander
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Source: Kongelige Bibliotek (Bestiarius - Bestiary of Anne Walsh (Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4)) Copyright 2003 Kongelige Bibliotek / Used by permission Manuscript description Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4, Folio 55v


 

Salamander

Latin name: Salamandra

Other names: Silion, Stellio, Sylio

Salamanders are so cold they can extinguish any fire

 

 
General Attributes

The salmander is a cold animal. It can live unharmed in a fire, and its coldness will extinguish the hottest flames. If it enters hot water, the water will become cold.

From the salamander comes a material that is unlike any other cloth; when it becomes dirty, it must be thrown into a fire, which will consume the dirt without harming the cloth. This cloth is made in the deserts of India, and is worn by important people. This is a good description of asbestos, which some sources link with the salamander.

The salmander's poison is very strong, and can kill many at once. If it climbs an apple tree, the apples become poisonous; if it enters a well, the water becomes deadly.


Allegory/Moral

The salamander represents righteous people, who can withstand fire, just as Daniel could emerge unharmed from the fiery furnace.


Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 86): The salamander is a shaped like a lizard, but is covered with spots. A salamander is so cold that it puts out fire on contact. It vomits from its mouth a milky liquid; if this liquid touches any part of the human body it causes all the hair to fall off, and the skin to change color and break out in a rash. Salamanders only appear when it rains and disappear in fine weather. (Book 11, 116): It is fatal to drink water or wine when a salamander has died in it, as is drinking from a vessel from which the creature has drunk.

Augustine [5th century CE] (City of God, Book 21, chapter 4): If the salamander lives in fire, as naturalists have recorded, this is a sufficiently convincing example that everything which burns is not consumed, as the souls in hell are not.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 4:36): The salamander alone of animals puts out fires; it can live in fire without pain and without being burned. Of all the venomous animals its strength is the greatest because it kills many at once. If it crawls into a tree it poisons all of the fruit, and anyone who eats the fruit will die; if it falls in a well it poisons the water so that any who drink it die.


Illustration

The salamander commonly is illustrated as a lizard in or moving through a fire. The effect of the salamander's poison is also commonly illustrated. Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4 (f. 55v) shows a large salamander, with its tail in a fire, poisoning an apple tree; a dying man, holding an apple, lies on the ground below. Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25 (f. 43r) shows the salamander as a snake spiraling up an apple tree; the snake has an apple in its mouth, making the scene very similar to some manuscript illustrations of the temptation of Eve. A man holding an apple stands near the tree, a hand to his head and looking sick.


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