The spotted salamander of the symbolists taxed the imagination. 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.
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.
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.
The following is from the "Life of Benvenuto Cellini," an Italian artist of the sixteenth century, written by himself:
"When I was about five years of age, my father, happening to be in a little room in which they had been washing, and where there was a good fire of oak burning, looked into the flames and saw a little animal resembling a lizard, which could live in the hottest part of that element. Instantly perceiving what it was, he called for my sister and me, and after he had shown us the creature, he gave me a box on the ear. I fell a-crying, while he, soothing me with caresses, spoke these words: 'My dear child, I do not give you that blow for any fault you have committed, but that you may recollect that the little creature you see in the fire is a salamander; such a one as never was beheld before to my knowledge.' So saying he embraced me, and gave me some money."