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Mythical Creatures -

Amazons
The race of Amazons or fighting women, is not yet extinct, ...

Pygmies
The antitheses of men--Dwarfs, and Giants--must not be over...

Giants
This last sentence seems almost a compendium of The History...

Early Men
On the antiquity of man it is impossible to speculate, beca...

Wild Men
Sometimes a specimen of humanity has got astray in infancy,...

Hairy Men
If, as we may conjecture from the above, the ancient Briton...

The Ouran Outan
Transition from hirsute humanity to the apes, is easy, and ...

Satyrs
He also mentions and delineates a curious Ape which closely...

The Sphynx
"The SPHYNGA or Sphinx, is of the kind of Apes, but his bre...

Apes
Sluper, who could soar to the height of delineating a Cyclo...

Animal Lore
We are indebted to Pliny for much strange animal lore--whic...

The Manticora
Of curious animals, other than Apes, depicted as having som...

The Lamia
The Lamiae are mythological--and were monsters of Africa, w...

The Centaur
This extraordinary combination of man and animal is very an...

The Gorgon
In the title-page of one edition of "The Historie of Foure-...

The Unicorn
What a curious belief was that of the Unicorn! Yet what myt...

The Rhinoceros
The true Unicorn is, of course, the Rhinoceros, and this pi...

The Gulo
Olaus Magnus thus describes the Gulo or Gulon:--"Amongst...

The Bear
As Pliny not only uses all Aristotle's matter anent Bears, ...

The Fox
By Englishmen, the Fox has been raised to the height of at ...

The Wolf
The Wolf, as a beast of prey, is invested with a terror pec...

Were-wolves
But of all extraordinary stories connected with the Wolf, i...

The Antelope
When not taken from living specimens, or skins, the arti...

The Horse
Aldrovandus gives us a curious specimen of a horse, which t...

The Mimick Dog
"The Mimicke or Getulian Dogge," is, I take it, meant fo...

The Cat
Aldrovandus gives us a picture of a curly-legged Cat, but, ...

The Lion
Of the great Cat, the Lion, the ancients give many wonderfu...

The Leontophonus The Pegasus The Crocotta
The Lion has a dreadful enemy, according to Pliny, who says...

The Leucrocotta The Eale Cattle Feeding Backwards
"There are oxen, too, like that of India, some with one hor...

Animal Medicine
We have already seen some of the wonderfully curative prope...

The Su
Topsell mentions a fearful beast called the Su. "There is a...

The Lamb-tree
As a change from this awful animal, let us examine the Plan...

The Chimaera
Aldrovandus gives us the accompanying illustration of a ...

The Harpy And Siren
The conjunction of the human form with birds is very eas...

The Barnacle Goose
Of all extraordinary beliefs, that in the Barnacle Goose, w...

Remarkable Egg
No wonder that a credulous age, which could see nothing ...

Moon Woman
One would have imagined that this Egg would be sufficien...

The Griffin
There always has been a tradition of birds being existent, ...

The Phoenix
Pliny says of the Phoenix:--"AEthiopia and India, more espe...

The Swallow
"And is the swallow gone? Who beheld it? Wh...

The Martlet And Footless Birds
Of the Martin, or, as in Heraldry it is written, Martlet, G...

Snow Birds
But we must leave warm climes, and birds of Paradise, and s...

The Swan
The ancient fable so dear, even to modern poets, that Swans...

The Alle Alle
"There is also in this Lake (the White Lake) a kind of b...

The Hoopoe And Lapwing
Whether the following bird is meant for the Hoopoe, or the ...

The Ostrich
Modern observation, and especially Ostrich farming, has ...

The Halcyon
Of this bird, the Kingfisher, Aristotle thus discourses:--"...

The Pelican
The fable of the Pelican "in her piety, vulning herself,...

The Trochilus
This bird, as described by Aristotle, and others, is of a p...

Woolly Hens
Sir John Maundeville saw in "the kingdome named Mancy, whic...

Two-headed Wild Geese
Near the land of the Cynocephali or dog-headed men, there w...

Four-footed Duck
Gesner describes a four-footed duck, which he says is li...

Fish
Terrestrial and Aerial animals were far more familiar to th...

The Sea-mouse
"The Sea-Mouse makes a hole in the Earth, and lays her Eggs...

The Sea-hare
"The Sea-Hare is found to be of divers kinds in the Ocean, ...

The Sea-pig
Again we are indebted to Gesner for the drawing of thi...

The Walrus
Of the Walrus, Rosmarus, or Morse, Gesner draws, and Ola...

The Ziphius
This Voracious Animal, whose size may be imagined by compar...

The Saw Fish
"The Saw fish is also a beast of the Sea; the body is huge ...

The Orca
is probably the Thresher whale. Pliny thus describes it:--"...

The Dolphin
Pliny says:--"The Dolphin is an animal not only friendly to...

The Narwhal
generally called the Monoceros or Sea Unicorn, is thus show...

The Swamfisck
The accompanying illustration, though heading the chapte...

The Sahab
"There is also another Sea-Monster, called Sahab, which hat...

The Circhos
"There is also another Monster like to that, called Circhos...

The Remora
Of this fish Pliny writes:--"There is a very small fish tha...

The Dog-fish And Ray
Olaus Magnus writes of "The cruelty of some Fish, and th...

The Sea Dragon
Of the Ray tribe of fishes, the Sea Dragon is the most ...

The Sting Ray
Pliny mentions the Sting Ray, and ascribes to it marvellous...

Senses Of Fishes
He also tells us about the senses of fishes, and first of t...

Zoophytes
Writing on the lower phases of Marine Animal life, he says:...

Sponges
"We find three kinds of sponges mentioned; the first are th...

The Kraken
This enormous monster, peculiar to the Northern Seas, is sc...

Crayfish And Crabs
Pliny tells us that in the Indian Ocean are Crayfish four c...

The Sea-serpent
Of the antiquity of the belief in the Sea-Serpent there can...

Serpents
Of Serpents Topsell has written a "Historie," which, if not...

The Crocodile
The largest of the Saurians which we have left us, is the C...

The Basilisk And Cockatrice
Aldrovandus portrays the Basilisk with eight legs. Topse...

The Salamander
Many writers have essayed this fabled creature, but almost ...

The Toad
Toads were always considered venomous and spiteful, and the...

The Leech
The Leech has, from a very early age, been used as a means ...

The Scorpion
Of the Scorpion, Pliny says:--"This animal is a dangerous s...

The Ant
No one would credit the industrious Ant, whose ways we are ...

The Bee
The Busy Bee, too, according to Olaus Magnus, developed, in...

The Hornet
So also, up North, they seem to have had a special breed...



The Salamander








Many writers have essayed this fabled creature, but almost all have
approached the subject with diffidence, as if not quite sure of the
absolute entity of the animal. Thus, Aristotle does not speak of it
authoritatively:--"And the Salamander shews that it is possible for some
animal substances to exist in the fire, for they say that fire is
extinguished when this animal walks over it." Pliny, on Salamanders,
writes:--"We find it stated by many authors, that a serpent is produced
from the spinal marrow of a man. Many creatures, in fact, among the
quadrupeds even, have a secret, and mysterious origin.



"Thus, for instance, the salamander, an animal like a lizard in shape,
and with a body starred all over, never comes out except during heavy
showers, and disappears the moment it becomes fine. This animal is so
intensely cold as to extinguish fire by its contact, in the same way
that ice doth. It spits forth a milky matter from its mouth; and
whatever part of the human body is touched with this, all the hair falls
off, and the part assumes the appearance of leprosy.... The wild boar of
Pamphylia, and the mountainous parts of Cilicia, after having devoured
a Salamander, will become poisonous to those who eat its flesh; and yet
the danger is quite imperceptible by reason of any peculiarity in the
smell and taste. The Salamander, too, will poison either water or wine
in which it happens to be drowned; and, what is more, if it has only
drunk thereof, the liquid becomes poisonous."

This idea of an animal supporting life in the fire is not confined to
the Salamander alone, for both Aristotle and Pliny aver that there is a
fly which possesses this accomplishment. Says the former:--"In Cyprus,
when the manufacturers of the stone called chalcitis burn it for many
days in the fire, a winged creature something larger than a great fly is
seen walking and leaping in the fire: these creatures perish when taken
from the fire." And the latter:--"That element, also, which is so
destructive to matter, produces certain animals; for in the
copper-smelting furnaces of Cyprus, in the very midst of the fire, there
is to be seen, flying about, a four-footed animal with wings, the size
of a large fly: this creature, called the 'pyrallis,' and by some the
'pyrausta.' So long as it remains in the fire it will live, but if it
comes out, and flies a little distance from it, it will instantly die."

Ser Marco Polo thoroughly pooh-poohs the idea of the Salamander, and
says it is Asbestos. Speaking of the Province of Chingintalas, he
says:--"And you must know that in the same mountain there is a vein of
the substance of which Salamander is made. For the real truth is that
the Salamander is no beast, as they allege in our part of the world, but
is a substance found in the earth; and I will tell you about it.

"Everybody must be aware that it can be no animal's nature to live in
fire, seeing that every animal is composed of all the four elements.
Now, I, Marco Polo, had a Turkish acquaintance of the name of Zurficar,
and he was a very clever fellow, and this Turk related to Messer Marco
Polo how he had lived three years in that region on behalf of the Great
Kaan, in order to procure those Salamanders for him. He said that the
way they got them was by digging in that mountain till they found a
certain vein. The substance of this vein was then taken and crushed,
and, when so treated, it divides, as it were, into fibres of wool, which
they set forth to dry. When dry, these fibres were pounded in a great
copper mortar, and then washed, so as to remove all the earth, and to
leave only the fibres, like fibres of wool. These were then spun, and
made into napkins. When first made, these napkins are not very white,
but by putting them in the fire for a while they come out as white as
snow. And so again, whenever they become dirty they are bleached by
being put in the fire.

"Now this, and nought else, is the truth about the Salamander, and the
people of the country all say the same. Any other account of the matter
is fabulous nonsense. And I may add that they have, at Rome, a napkin
out of this stuff, which the Grand Kaan sent to the Pope, to make a
wrapper, for the Holy Sudarium of Jesus Christ."

That extremely truthful person, Benvenuto Cellini, in his thoroughly
veracious autobiography, tells us the following Snake Story:--"When I
was about five years old, my father happened to be in a basement-chamber
of our house, where they had been washing, and where a good fire of
oak-logs was still burning; he had a viol in his hand, and was playing
and singing alone beside the fire.

"The weather was very cold. Happening to look into the fire, he spied in
the middle of those most burning flames a little creature like a lizard,
which was sporting in the core of the intensest coals. Becoming
instantly aware of what the thing was, he had my sister and me called,
and, pointing it out to us children, gave me a great box on the ears,
which caused me to howl and weep with all my might. Then he pacified me
good-humouredly, and spoke as follows: 'My dear little boy, I am not
striking you for any wrong that you have done, but only to make you
remember that that lizard which you see in the fire is a salamander, a
creature which has never been seen before, by any one of whom we have
credible information.' So saying, he kissed me, and gave me some pieces
of money."

Even Topsell is half-hearted about its fire-resisting qualities, giving
no modern instances, and only, for it, quoting old authors. According to
his account, and to the picture which I have taken from him, the
Salamander is not a prepossessing-looking animal:--"The Salamander is
also foure-footed like a Lyzard, and all the body over it is set with
spots of blacke and yellow, yet is the sight of it abhominable, and
fearefull to man. The head of it is great, and sometimes they have
yellowish bellyes and tayles, and sometimes earthy."

He also says its bite is not only poisonous, but incurable, and that it
poisons all it touches.





Next: The Toad

Previous: The Basilisk And Cockatrice



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