Monthly Marvel: Salmon of Knowledge

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I want to share the Salmon of Knowledge.


Salmon of Knowledge

This week’s fantastic being is the salmon of knowledge. An Irish fish, known in Irish as bradádan feasa, the salmon of knowledge has a few stories associated with it.

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Source: William Murphy at flic.kr/p/9EzTuX. This statue, called “The Big Fish,” sits in Belfast and depicts the Salmon of Knowledge.

In one story, an ordinary salmon ate nine hazelnuts that fell into the Well of Wisdom; in so doing, it gained all of the world’s knowledge, and the first person to eat of its flesh would gain this knowledge, too. The poet Finn Eces fished for this salmon for years; one day he caught it and gave it to his servant Fionn to cook, with strict instructions that Fionn must not eat any of it. However, when the salmon seemed to be nearly cooked, Fionn touched it with his thumb to see if it was done, but in so doing he burned himself in the fat. He sucked his thumb to ease the pain, and thus was the first person to taste the salmon of wisdom’s flesh; the tiny bit of grease was enough. Thus Fionn gained all of the knowledge of the world, though in order to access it he must bite his thumb.

The poet Taliesin is said to have gained his wisdom in a similar way.

I wonder what it is like to be a salmon of knowledge, though? What would a fish do with all of the knowledge of the world? I would guess such a salmon would avoid fishing lures, so it seems unlikely that it would let itself get caught… unless it had some reason for doing so. According to the Wikipedia page, in some versions the salmon of knowledge is immortal, capable of being eaten and yet still living.

(There is a posthumous collection of Douglas Adams’s work called The Salmon of Doubt, based on this fish. I have not read it, but one of the other Weekly Wonder collaborators has. I know because she talks about it with some frequency.)

Posted by Christian H.

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