Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 200

That the skin of an animal which could resist the action of fire should be considered proof against that element, is not to be wondered at. We accordingly find that a cloth made of the skins of salamanders (for there really is such an animal, a kind of lizard) was incombustible, and very valuable for wrapping up such articles as were too precious to be intrusted to any other envelopes. These fire-proof cloths were actually produced, said to be made of salamander's wool, though the knowing ones detected that the substance of which they were composed was Asbestos, a mineral, which is in fine filaments capable of being woven into a flexible cloth.

The foundation of the above fables is supposed to be the fact that the salamander really does secrete from the pores of his body a milky juice, which, when he is irritated, is produced in considerable quantity, and would doubtless, for a few moments, defend the body from fire. Then it is a hibernating animal, and in winter retires to some hollow tree or other cavity, where it coils itself up and remains in a torpid state till the spring again calls it forth. It may therefore sometimes be carried with the fuel to the fire, and wake up only time enough to put forth all its faculties for its defence. Its viscous juice would do good service, and all who profess to have seen it acknowledge that it got out of the fire as fast as its legs could carry it; indeed too fast for them ever to make prize of one, except in one instance, and in that one, the animal's feet and some parts of its body were badly burned.

Dr. Young, in the Night Thoughts, with more quaintness than good taste, compares the sceptic who can remain unmoved in the contemplation of the starry heavens, to a salamander unwarmed in the fire:

  "An undevout astronomer is mad!
  * * * * * *
  Oh, what a genius must inform the skies!
  And is Lorenzo's salamander-heart
  Cold and untouched amid these sacred fires?"

Chapter XXX

Eastern Mythology