From the Bestiary: Salamander

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.



Categories: Bestiary

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