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Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art

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Demon Queen
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« on: June 16, 2009, 03:18:45 pm »

Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art
by John Vinycomb
[1909]



This is a review of the folk-lore of animals, mostly of a legendary or purely symbolic nature, particularly as appearing in English Heraldry. It's a gold-mine of lore about such fantastic beasts as the hydra, the basilisk, the phoenix, as well as angels, dragons, mermaids, sphynxes and so on. Vinycomb also covers heraldic versions of actual animals, such as the 'Tyger,' and the Heraldic Pelican and Dolphin. Included are over a hundred illustrations of fantastic creatures. Overall, a delight for browsing.--J.B. Hare, May 25, 2009.
http://sacred-texts.com/lcr/fsca/index.htm


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« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2009, 01:09:40 pm »

FICTITIOUS & SYMBOLIC CREATURES IN ART
WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO THEIR USE
IN BRITISH HERALDRY

BY JOHN VINYCOMB
MEMBER OF THE ROYAL IRISH ACADEMY, FELLOW OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES OF IRELAND, A VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE EX-LIBRIS SOCIETY


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« Reply #2 on: June 18, 2009, 01:14:34 pm »

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« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2009, 01:15:34 pm »

p. v

PREFACE

UNDER the title of this book it is proposed to describe and illustrate only those fictitious and symbolic creatures which appear in British Heraldry. The list will include all those beings of whose existence we have not the direct evidence of our senses, and those exaggerations and combinations of natural forms which have been adopted in the system of symbolic heraldry handed down to us from the Middle Ages. Many of the ideas of the writers of that period were undoubtedly derived from still earlier sources, namely, classic story, sacred and legendary art, and the marvellous tales of early travellers; others were the coinage of their own fancies and their fears.

As these unreal beings are constantly met with in symbolic art, of which heraldry is the chief exponent, it may be assumed that they have been adopted in each case with some obvious or latent meaning, as in

p. vi

the case of real animals; they may, therefore, equally lay claim to our consideration as emblems or types, more especially as less attention has been devoted to them and the delineation of their forms by competent artists. The writer has been led into considering and investigating the subject with some degree of attention, from finding the frequent need of some reliable authority, both descriptive and artistic, such as would enable any one to depict with accuracy and true heraldic spirit the forms and features of these chimerical beings. Books of reference on heraldry unfortunately give but a meagre description of their shapes, with scarcely a hint as to their history or meaning, while the illustrations are usually stiff and awkward, representing a soulless state of art.

It cannot be said that artists at any period have succeeded, even in a remote degree, in embodying the highly wrought conceptions of the poets concerning these terrible creatures of the imagination. Milton seems to have carried poetic personification to its utmost limits. Who, for instance, could depict a being like this:


            "Black it stood as night,
 Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell!"

Out of the ambiguous and often conflicting accounts

p. vii

of different authors and the vagaries of artists it became no easy task to arrive at a clear conception of many of the forms of these ideal monsters. The poet's pen may turn them to shapes, shadowy at the best; but the artist who follows the poet in endeavouring to realise and give tangible shape to these ideas finds it beyond his art to give material form and expression to his personifications with anything like photographic fidelity Such shadowy beings prefer the dim light of allegory to the clear sunlight of reason, and shrink from closer inspection. Like all spectres they are ever most effective in the dark. In the childhood of the world, from the dawn of history, and all through the dim and credulous ages past, many such illusions have performed an important part in influencing the thought and lives of mankind. Over many lands these inherited ideas still exercise a paramount influence, but in the enlightenment of the coming time it is probable their power, like that of an evil dream, will fade entirely away with the dawn of a brighter day, and the memories of their name and influence alone remain. At present we are chiefly concerned with them as symbols, and with their mode of representation, breathing for a brief moment the breath of life into their old dead skins. These mythical creatures may be gazed upon, shorn of all

p. viii

their terrors, in the illustrations I have been enabled to make, and if it is found that from each creature I have not "plucked out the heart of its mystery" it is probably because there is no mystery whatever about it, only what to us now appears as an ingenious fiction engendered by a credulous, imaginative and superstitious past. And so we find the old horrors and pleasing fictions, after figuring for ages as terrible or bright realities in the minds of entire peoples, reduced at length to the dead level of a figure of speech and a symbol merely.

J. Vinycomb.

Holywood,
     County Down,
         April 1906.



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« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2009, 01:16:02 pm »

CONTENTS

 PAGE
 
Introduction
 1
 
Notes on Animated Beings in Heraldic Art
 13
 
   The symbolism of Attitude or Position
 18
 
   The Heraldic Spirit—Effective decorative Quality essential in Heraldry
 22
 
Celestial Beings
 25
 
Angels
 27
 
   Mistaken Modern Conception of Angels
 32
 
   Mediæval Art Treatment of Angels
 34
 
Cherubim and Seraphim in Heraldry
 44
 
The Cherubim and Seraphim of Scripture
 47
 
Emblems of the Four Evangelists
 53
 
Chimerical Creatures of the Dragon and Serpent Kind
 57
 
The Dragon
 59
 
The Dragon in Christian Art
 69
 
   The Dragon in the Royal Heraldry of Britain
 83
 
   The Crocodile as the Prototype of the Dragon
 91
 
   The Heraldic Dragon
 92
 
The Hydra
 96
 
The Wyvern
 98
 
   The Chimera
 102
 
   The Lion-Dragon
 103
 
   The Gorgon
 103
 
The Cockatrice
 104
 
Basilisk, or Amphysian Cockatrice
 106
 
   The Mythical Serpent
 108
 
p. x
 
 
 
 PAGE
 
The Scorpion
 122
 
Other Chimerical Creatures and Heraldic Beasts
 125
 
The Unicorn
 127
 
   Mediæval Conception of the Unicorn
 130
 
   The Horn of the Unicorn
 133
 
The Pegasus
 137
 
Sagittary, Centaur, Sagittarius, Centaurus, Hippocentaur
 141
 
Griffin or Gryphon
 147
 
   The Male Griffin
 160
 
   Other Varieties of the Griffin
 161
 
The Opinicus, or Epimacus
 162
 
The Sphynx
 163
 
The Phœnix Bird of the Sun
 171
 
The Harpy
 179
 
The Heraldic Pelican
 182
 
The Martlet
 186
 
The Alerion
 188
 
   The Liver (Cormorant)
 189
 
The Heraldic Tigre or Tyger
 190
 
   The Royal Tiger
 193
 
Leopard, or Panther, Felis Pardus, Lybbarde
 194
 
   The Panther "Incensed"
 199
 
The Lynx
 203
 
Cat-a-Mountain—Tiger Cat or Wild Cat
 205
 
The Salamander
 209
 
Heraldic Antelope
 213
 
The Heraldic Ibex
 215
 
Bagwyn
 216
 
The Camelopard, Camel-Leopard
 216
 
Musimon, Tityrus
 217
 
The Enfield
 217
 
Mantiger, Montegre or Manticora Satyral
 218
 
   Lamia or Emipusa
 220
 
   Baphomet
 221
 
p. xi
 
 
 
 PAGE
 
   Apres
 221
 
   Stelliones
 221
 
Fictitious Creatures of the Sea
 223
 
   Introductory Notes
 225
 
Poseidon or Neptune
 237
 
Merman or Triton
 239
 
The Mermaid or Siren
 243
 
The Sirens of Classic Mythology
 249
 
The Dolphin of Legend and of Heraldry
 254
 
The Dauphin of France
 265
 
The Heraldic Dolphin
 267
 
The Sea-Horse
 270
 
Sea-Lion
 274
 
Sea-Dog
 275
 



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« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2009, 01:16:27 pm »

p. xii p. xiii

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

 PAGE
 
Celestial Beings:
 
 
   Angel holding Shield
 27
 
   Egyptian Winged Deity
 28
 
   Hawk-headed and winged figure, emblem of Osiris
 29
 
   Angel with Cloud Symbol
 38
 
   Angel Supporter
 40
 
   Kneeling Angel Supporter
 41
 
   Arms of the Abbey of St. Albans
 42
 
   Gloria in Excelsis Deo
 43
 
   Cherubs’ Heads
 44
 
   A Seraph's Head
 44
 
   Arms—Azure a chevron argent between three cherubs’ heads of the last
 45
 
   Cherubim and Seraphim of Scripture
 47
 
   Angel crest of Tuite, Bart., co. Tipperary
 48
 
   Tetramorph
 52
 
   Symbols of the Four Evangelists
 54
 
   The Lion of St. Mark, Venice
 56
 
Chimerical Creatures of the Dragon and Serpent Kind:
 
 
   The Dragon
 59
 
   Japanese Dragon
 65
 
   Japanese Imperial Device
 67
 
   The Dragon of the Apocalypse
 71
 
   St. Michael and the Old Dragon
 72
 
   St. Margaret. From ancient carving
 73
 
   St. George and the Dragon
 74
 
p. xiv
 
 
 
 PAGE
 
Chimerical Creatures—continued:
 
 
   Dragon Standard. From the Bayeux Tapestry
 86
 
   A Dragon passant
 90
 
   Crest, a Dragon's Head erased collared and chained
 93
 
   Arms of the City of London
 94
 
   Sinister supporter of the arms of Viscount Gough
 95
 
   Hercules and the Lernean Hydra. From Greek vase
 96
 
   The Hydra
 97
 
   A Wyvern holding a fleur-de-lis
 98
 
   A Wyvern, wings endorsed, tail nowed
 99
 
   Wyvern from the Garter plate of Sir John Gray, 1436 A.D.
 99
 
   Wyvern, or Lindworm (German version)
 100
 
   Wyvern, wings displayed (early example)
 101
 
   Wyvern, wings depressed
 101
 
   Chimera, from a Greek coin
 102
 
   Cockatrice
 105
 
   Basilisk or Aphasian Cockatrice, tail nowed
 107
 
   Greek Shield, from painted vase in the British Museum
 114
 
   Brazen Serpent
 114
 
   Arms of Whitby Abbey
 118
 
   A Serpent, nowed, proper. Crest of Cavendish
 121
 
   Amphiptère, or flying Serpent
 122
 
   Scorpion
 123
 
Other Chimerical Creatures and Heraldic Beasts:
 
 
   Unicorn salient
 127
 
   Crest, a Unicorn's Head, couped
 128
 
   The Legend of the Unicorn
 131
 
   Pegasus or Pegasos
 137
 
   Coins of Corinth and Syracuse
 138
 
   Pegasus salient
 139
 
   The Sagittary—Centaur
 142
 
   Ipotane, from Mandeville's travels
 144
 
   Compound figures, gold necklace
 145
 
   Centaur, Greek Sculpture
 146
 
p. xv
 
 
 
 PAGE
 
Other Chimerical Creatures—continued:
 
 
   A Griffin statant, wings endorsed
 148
 
   A Griffin passant, wings raised. (Early English)
 149
 
   A Griffin segreant, wings displayed. (German)
 149
 
   Sleeping Griffin
 150
 
   Griffin segreant (German version)
 152
 
   Gold Flying Griffin
 154
 
   Colossal Griffins, Burmah
 155
 
   Carved panel, a Griffin segreant
 160
 
   Male Griffin
 161
 
   Opinicus statant
 162
 
   Egyptian Sphynx
 163
 
   Theban, or Greek Sphynx
 164
 
   A Sphynx passant guardant, wings endorsed
 170
 
   The Phœnix
 171
 
   A Harpy, wings disclosed
 179
 
   The Harpy, Greek sculpture
 180
 
   A Harpy displayed and crowned (German version)
 181
 
   Shield of Nüremberg
 181
 
   A Pelican in her piety, wings displayed
 182
 
   Heraldic Pelican in her piety
 183
 
   Crest, a Pelican vulning herself proper, wings endorsed
 184
 
   The natural Pelican
 186
 
   The Martlet
 186
 
   Alerion displayed
 188
 
   Heraldic Eagle
 188
 
   An Heraldic Tigre passant
 190
 
   Supporter, an Heraldic Tigre, collared and lined
 191
 
   Tigre and Mirror
 193
 
   A Leopard passant
 195
 
   A Leopard's Face, jessant-de-lis
 196
 
   Panther "Incensed"
 200
 
   The Lynx
 203
 
   Cat-a-Mountain saliant, collared and lined
 205
 
   Crest, a Cat-a-Mountain, sejant, collared and lined
 206
 
p. xvi
 
 
 
 PAGE
 
Other Chimerical Creatures—continued:
 
 
   The crowned Salamander of Francis I.
 209
 
   Salamander crest of James, Earl of Douglas
 212
 
   Heraldic Antelope
 214
 
   The Heraldic Ibex
 215
 
   Musimon, Tityrus
 217
 
   Mantygre, Satyral
 218
 
   Manticora. From ancient Bestiaria
 219
 
   Lamia. From old Bestiary
 220
 
Fictitious Creatures of the Sea:
 
 
   Poseidon. Dexter Supporter of Baron Hawke
 237
 
   Merman or Triton
 240
 
   Triton, with two tails (German)
 240
 
   Mermaid and Triton supporters
 241
 
   Mermaid
 242, 243
 
   Crest of Ellis
 244
 
   Die Ritter, of Nuremberg
 245
 
   Ulysses and the Sirens
 249, 250
 
   The Dolphin
 254, 255
 
   Dolphin of classic art
 259
 
   Coin of Ægina
 262
 
   Sign of the Dolphin
 263
 
   Banner of the Dolphin
 265
 
   Example—Dolphin embowed
 267
 
   Dolphin hauriant, urinant, naiant, torqued
 268
 
   Sea-horse naiant
 270
 
   Sea-horse erect
 271
 
   Arms of the city of Belfast
 273
 
   Sea-lion erect
 275
 
   Sea-dog rampant
 276
 



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« Reply #6 on: June 18, 2009, 01:17:21 pm »

p. 1

INTRODUCTION
"Angels and ministers of grace defend us."—"Hamlet."

THE human mind has a passionate longing for knowledge even of things past comprehension. Where it cannot know, it will imagine; what the mind conceives it will attempt to define. Are facts wanting, poetry steps in, and myth and song supply the void; cave and forest, mountain and valley, lake and river, are theatres peopled by fancy, and


             "as imagination bodies forth
 The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
 Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
 A local habitation and a name."

Traditions of unreal beings inhabit the air, and will not vanish be they ever so sternly commanded; from the misty records of antiquity and the relics of past greatness as seen sculptured in stupendous ruins on the banks of the Nile and the plains of Assyria, strange shapes look with their mute stony eyes upon a world that knows them but imperfectly, and

p. 2

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« Reply #7 on: June 18, 2009, 01:17:37 pm »

vainly attempts to unriddle the unfathomable mystery of their being. Western nations, with their growing civilisations, conjured up monsters of benign or baneful influence, or engrafted and expanded the older ideas in a manner suited to their genius and national characteristics.

The creatures of the imagination, "Gorgons and Hydras and Chimeras dire," shapes lovely and shapes terrible begot of unreason in the credulous minds of the imaginative, the timid and the superstitious,—or dreamy poetic fancies of fairies and elves of whom poets sing so sweetly:


"Shapes from the invisible world unearthly singing
 From out the middle air, from flowery nests
 And from the pillowy silkiness that rests
 Full in the speculation of the stars,—"
                                           Keats.


                   "or fairy elves,
 Whose midnight revels, by the forest side
 Or fountain, some belated peasant sees,
 Or dreams he sees,—"
                 Milton, Paradise Lost, Book i.

the nameless dreads and horrors of the unknown powers of darkness, the pestiferous inhabitants of wastes and desert places where loneliness reigns supreme, and imaginary terrors assault the traveller on every hand, assuming forms more various and more to be dreaded than aught of mortal birth,—such vague and indefinable ideas, "legends fed by

p. 3

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« Reply #8 on: June 18, 2009, 01:17:52 pm »

time and chance," like rumours in the air, in the course of time assume tangible shape, receiving definite expression by the poet and artist until they become fixed in the popular mind as stern realities influencing the thoughts and habits of millions of people through successive generations. We see them in the rude fetish of the South Sea Islander, the myriad gods and monsters of heathen mythology, as well as in the superstitions of mediæval Europe, of which last the devil with horned brow, cloven hoofs and forked tail is the most "unreal mockery" of them all. The days of Diabolism and the old witch creed are, however, passed away; but under the dominance of these ideas during centuries, in Protestant and Catholic lands alike, hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of all ages and both sexes were accused of the most absurd and impossible crimes, and subjected to almost inconceivable torture and death.

The dying Christian about to pass through the valley of the shadow of death, in the words of the poet, expresses his faith in the nearness of the spirit world:


"I see a form ye cannot see
 I hear a voice ye cannot hear."

To the spiritually minded other forms, with more of the beautiful and less of the hideous and frightful, revealed themselves; the solitary recluse, his body and mind reduced to an unnatural condition by fasting and penance, in mental hallucination beheld his

p. 4

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« Reply #9 on: June 18, 2009, 01:18:05 pm »

celestial visitants with awe and adoration, and saw in visions angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim towering in a blaze of glory to illimitable height and extremest space. The rapt seraph and the whole angelic host of heaven to his ecstatic gaze was a revelation and a reality as tangible as were the powers of darkness seen and felt by more sordid natures, incapable of the higher conceptions, and whose minds were accessible chiefly through their terrors.

To classic fable we are indebted for very many of the fictitious animals which heralds have introduced into coats armorial. In all ages man has sought to explain by myths certain phenomena of nature which he has been unable to account for in a more rational manner. Earthquakes were the awakening of the earth tortoise which carried the earth on its back; the tides were the pulses of the ocean; lightning was the breath of demons, the thunderbolt of Jupiter, the hammer of Thor; volcanoes were the forges of the infernal deities. In the old Norse legends we read of waterspouts being looked upon as sea serpents, and wonderful stories are related of their power and influence. The Chinese imagine eclipses to be caused by great dragons which seek to devour the sun. Innumerable beliefs cluster round the sun, moon, and stars. We may trace from our own language the extent of power which these peculiar beliefs have had over the human mind. We still speak of mad people as lunatics, gloomy people as saturnine, sprightly people we term mercurial; we say, "Ill-star’d event,"

p. 5

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« Reply #10 on: June 18, 2009, 01:18:19 pm »

 &c. &c. The ships of the early navigators, with masts and sails and other requisites for directing their motion or influencing their speed, would be objects of astonishment to the inhabitants of the countries they visited, causing them to be received with the utmost respect and veneration. The ship was taken for a living animal, and hence originated, some say, the fables of winged dragons, griffons, flying citadels, and men transformed into birds and fishes. The winged Pegasus was nothing but a ship with sails and hence was said to be the offspring of Neptune.

"In reality," says Southey, in his preface to the "Morte d’Arthur," vol. ii. 1817, "mythological and romantic tales are current among all savages of whom we have any full account; for man has his intellectual as well as his bodily appetite, and these things are the food of his imagination and faith. They are found wherever there is language and discourse of reason; in other words, wherever there is man. And in similar states of society the fictions of different people will bear a corresponding resemblance, notwithstanding the differences of time and scene." And Sir Walter Scott, in his "Essay on Romance and Chivalry," following up the same idea, adds, "that the usual appearances and productions of nature offer to the fancy, in every part of the world, the same means of diversifying fictitious narrative by the introduction of prodigies. If in any romance we encounter the description of an elephant, we may reasonably conclude that a phenomenon unknown in Europe must

p. 6

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« Reply #11 on: June 18, 2009, 01:18:35 pm »

have been borrowed from the East; but whoever has seen a serpent and a bird may easily aggravate the terrors of the former by conferring on a fictitious monster the wings of the latter; and whoever has seen or heard of a wolf, or lion and an eagle, may, by a similar exercise of invention, imagine a griffon or a hippogriff."

Beyond the common experiences of every-day life the popular mind everywhere cares very little about simple commonplace practical truths. Human nature seems to crave mystery, to be fond of riddles and the marvellous, and doubtless it was ever so and provided for in all the old faiths of the world.

"The multitude of dragons, diverse as they are, reflecting the fears and fancies of the most different races, it is more than probable is a relic of the early serpent-worship which, according to Mr. Fergusson, is of such remote antiquity that the religion of the Jews was modern in comparison, the curse laid on the serpent being, in fact, levelled at the ancient superstition which it was intended to supersede. Notwithstanding the various forms under which we find the old dragon he ever retains something of the serpent about him, if no more than the scales. In the mediæval devil, too, the tail reveals his descent." (Louis F. Day.)

The fictitious beings used as symbols in heraldry may be divided into two classes: (1) Celestial beings mentioned in Holy Writ, and those creatures of the imagination which, from the earliest ages, have held

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« Reply #12 on: June 18, 2009, 01:18:54 pm »

possession of men's minds, profound symbols unlike anything in the heavens or in the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth. They may be abstract ideas embodied in tangible shape, such as the terrible creature, the type of some divine quality, that stands calm, immovable, and imperishable within the walls of our National Museum; such forms as the dragon, of the purely imaginative class, and those creatures compounded of parts of different real animals, yet unlike any one of them, each possessing special symbolic attributes, according to the traditional ideas held concerning them. (2) Animals purely heraldic, such as the heraldic tiger, panther incensed, heraldic antelope, &c., owe their origin and significance to other ideas, and must be accounted for on other grounds, namely, the mistaken ideas resulting from imperfect knowledge of these objects in natural history by early writers and herald painters, to whom they were no doubt real animals with natural qualities, and, as such, according to their knowledge, they depicted them; and although more light has been thrown upon the study of natural history since their time, and many of their conceptions have been proved to be erroneous, the well-known heraldic shapes of many of these lusus naturæ are still retained in modern armory. These animals were such as they could have little chance of seeing, and they probably accepted their descriptions from "travellers’ tales," always full of the marvellous—and the misleading histories of still earlier writers.

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« Reply #13 on: June 18, 2009, 01:19:20 pm »

Pliny and many of the writers of his day describe certain animals in a way that appears the absurdest fable; even the lion described by him is in some points most unnatural. Xenophon, for instance, describing a boar hunt, gravely tells us: "So hot are the boar's tusks when he is just dead that if a person lays hairs upon them the hairs will shrivel up; and when the boar is alive they—that is, the tusks—are actually red hot when he is irritated, for otherwise he would not singe the tips of the dogs’ hair when he misses a blow at their bodies." The salamander in flames, of frequent occurrence in heraldry, is of this class. Like the toad, "ugly and venomous," the salamander was regarded by the ancients with the utmost horror and aversion. It was accredited with wondrous qualities, and the very sight of it "abominable and fearful to behold." Elian, Nicander, Dioscorides and Pliny all agree in that it possessed the power of immediately extinguishing any fire into which it was put, and that it would even rush at or charge the flame, which it well knew how to extinguish. It was believed that its bite was certainly mortal, that anything touched by its saliva became poisonous, nay, that if it crept over a tree all the fruit became deleterious. Even Bacon believed in it. Quoth he: "The salamander liveth in the fire and hath the power to extinguish it." There is, too, a lingering popular belief that if a fire has been burning for seven years there will be a salamander produced from it. Such is the monstrous character given to

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« Reply #14 on: June 18, 2009, 01:19:35 pm »

one of the most harmless of little creatures: the only basis of truth for all this superstructure of fable is the fact that it exudes an acrid watery humour from its skin when alarmed or in pain.

Spenser, in the "Fairy Queen," Book 1, cant. v. 18, according to the mistaken notions of his time, compares the dangerous dissimulation and treacherous tears of Duessa (or Falsehood) to the crocodile:


"As when a weary traveller that strays
 By muddy shore of broad seven-mouthed Nile,
 Unweeting of the perilous wand’ring ways,
 Doth meet a cruel, crafty crocodile,
 Which in false guise hiding his harmful guile,
 Doth weep full sore, and shedding tender tears;
 The foolish man, that pities all the while
 His mournful plight, is swallowed unawares
 Forgetful of his own that minds another's cares."
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