by Heather R. Darsie
The salamander was regarded as one of the most dangerous beasts alive. The Bestiary states, “The salamander is so called because of its proof against fire; it is the most poisonous of all creatures.” The message is clear: if one sees a salamander, go the other way! This cold animal is nothing but trouble.
Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4º, Folio 55v, via http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast276.htm
By contrast, “Other [animals] kill one at a time; this creature kills several at once.” The salamander’s very presence threatens to poison the flora and fauna around it. “For if it crawls into a tree, all the apples are infected with its poison, and those who eat them die. In the same way, if it falls in a well, the water will poison those who drink it.”
The dangerously poisonous salamander does possess one interesting quality: fire cannot harm it. “It is the enemy of fire and alone among animals can put out flames.” While the salamander is definitely a threat, it was not explicitly believed that the salamander was vicious or would attack people. It fire-fighting properties included the salamander’s immunity, “It lives in the midst of flames without pain and without being consumed; not only does it not burn, but it puts out the flames.”
It is thought that the salamander is connected to the biblical parable of Daniel, who emerged unscathed from a fiery furnace.
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Sources & Suggested Reading
1. Barber, Richard: translation and introduction. Bestiary: Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford. M. S. Bodley 764. P. 194. All original miniatures reproduced in facsimile. Woodbridge: 1999.
2. The Medieval Bestiary. “Salamander.” Published 15 January 2011. http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast276.htm Accessed 11 July 2018.