The Origin of Bees in Greek Mythology

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bees on honey comb

In many ancient cultures, the origins of the bee were seen as a great source of fascination.

According to Greek mythology, the son of Apollo, Aristaeus, was often regarded as being the very first beekeeper.  He, of course, learned beekeeping from the nymph’s of the Mother Goddes, Gaia.  Also, according to legend, Aristaeus fell in love…deep love…with Eurydice.  Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus.  Evidently, Eurydice didn’t want any of that Aristaeus attention and in her hurry to escape his comings-on mistakenly stepped on a serpent which struck, bit, and killed her.  (Love is painful!)

In an OG payback move, Eurydice’s nymphs destroyed the beloved bees of Aristaeus.

But there was a chance for Aristaeus to recover his bees.  All he had to do was slaughter four bulls and four heifers.  Then leave their bodies, unbothered, for nine days in a grove of leaves surrounded by tall trees. The prototypical sacrificial offering.

At the end of the 9 days, bees poured from the carcasses, allowing Aristaeus to rebuild his beekeeping empire and, thus, pass it on to future generations of humans.

Even Aristotle was a Beekeeper

Aristotle wrote a book somewhere between 344 and 342 BC. The title was Historia Animalium and beekeeping holds a prominent place even in the great thinker and philosopher conscious.

Included in the book is a very detailed picture of the beekeeping in ancient Greece.  He meticulously explains how the “bee-masters” of Ancient Greece would carefully remove the combs from hives but still pay care not to remove too much in order to leave food for the bees.

Aristotle also notes that when the honey was skimp…and the bees weren’t producing that much, the bee masters would provide figs and other sweet foods to the bees.  He notes that the volume of production of honey from hive to hive could differ greatly.  Some produced as low as 5 pints per honey to a great hive that could produce up to 18 pints.

Aristotle also notes a strange, monotonous sound that can be heard a few days prior to a swarm coming out of a hive.   Beekeepers would also sprinkle a hive with sweet wine to beckon the bees.

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