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The tale of the childhood sighting of a salamander or fire lizard by the great Florentine sculptor, painter and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, as related in his Vita (or Life, written during the period 1558-1563), has been variously rendered into English.

Thomas Bulfinch proffers the following version in his Age of Fable, or Stories of Gods and Heroes of 1855:

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.

Later, the tremendously influential Argentinean literary master Jorge Luis Borges related the tale as follows – this from his El libro de los seres imaginarios of 1967 (later published as The Book of Imaginary Beings in 2005):

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 … 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.’

More posts will follow on this most cold dweller of fire …

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