The mythical salamander resembles the real salamander somewhat in appearance, but makes its home in fires, the hotter the better. Its alleged resistance to fire was such that it lived in volcanoes. Pliny believed its body was cold enough to extinguish flames. Its spittle was so poisonous that a man's hair would fall off his body at its touch. This creature's presence was believed to poison wells and orchards.
From Greek Salambeander meaning chimney-man
The skin of the animal, which was known to resist the action of fire, came to be considered proof against that element. This cloth made of the skin/wool of salamanders was incombustible, and very valuable, for wrapping up precious items. These fireproof cloths appeared later to be composed of 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 secrete from the pores of his body a milky juice, which when he is irritated is produced in considerable quantity, and would defend the body from fire.
Species of salamanders are numerous and found in the northern hemisphere in habitats near water or under some protection on moist ground, usually in a forest. Most are small but some reach up to 5 feet in length. They live in brooks and ponds and other moist locations restricted to mostly the northern hemisphere, with the exception of a few species living in the northernmost part of South America. North America has the hellbender and the mudpuppy which can reach the length of a foot or more. In Japan and China the giant salamander is found, which reaches 5 feet (1.5m) and weighs up to 30 kilograms .
The salamander represents those who pass through the fires of passion and of this world without stain. Therefore, it stands for chastity, loyalty, impartiality, virginity, courage, Jesus, Mary, and the faithful. The salamander is also used to symbolize the flames, which it passes through, and so is a symbol of fire, temptation, and burning desire. It was considered the "king of fire" and as such was representative of Christ who would baptize with the flames of the Holy Spirit. Cloquet considers Christ the salamander king of fire because he passed through the fires of hell after his crucifixion without harm. King Francois I of France used a salamander as his personal emblem.
Early travelers to China were shown garments supposedly woven from salamander wool; the cloth was completely unharmed by fire. The garments had actually been weaving|woven from asbestos. Later Paracelsus suggested that the salamander was the elemental of fire. Because of this, salamanders have often been associated with dragons because of their connection with fire. These myths originate in Europe from the fire salamander, Salamandra salamandra, which hibernates in and under rotting logs. When logs were brought indoors and put on the fire, the animals mysteriously appeared from the flames.
The following is from the "Life of Benvenuto Cellini," an Italian artist of the sixteenth century, written by himself:
Isidore of Seville