The name salamander is applied to both a mythical and a real creature, the one
inspired by the other. The name comes from the Greek for "fire lizard" (although the real
salamander is an amphibian not a lizard).
This page is about the mythical one - there is also a page on the
One word sums up the legend of the salamander: fire.
The salamander was believed to be a creature of fire. The level of its elemental
association varied. Sometimes it was simply fire resistant or would put out fire,
at other times it was said to
live in fire, sometimes it was even said to be born in fire. It has been said that
salamanders were created when glass-blowers stoked their furnaces continually for seven
days and nights.
Pliny in his Natural History said of salamanders:
"This animal is so intensely cold as to extinguish fire by its contact, in the
same way that ice does."
Paracelsus declared the salamander to be the elemental creature of fire and this
attribuion was adopted by the Rosicrucians and alchemists. Even Shakespeare referred to
the salamander. In Henry IV part 1 Falstaff compares Bardolph's nose to a salamander that
has been fed with the fire of sack:
"I have maintained that salamander of yours with fire any
time this two and thirty years"
More recently Ray Bradbury used the salamander (along with the phoenix) as one of the
symbols of the book-burning firemen in Fahrenheit 451.
The origin of the salamander myth is probably the real creature known as the "fire
salamander" (Salamandra salamandra). This likes to hibernate on logs. When these
were thrown onto a fire the salamander would wake up and - apparently - "appear" in the
It has also been said that early visitors to China were presented with cloth made from
asbestos and told that it was made from "salamander wool".