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Beekeeping, Honey, Honey Bees, Latin Literature, Queens, Wasps, Woodpeckers

Georgics Book IV Virgil as Beekeeper

“Protinus aerii mellis caelestia dona
exsequar.  Hanc etiam, Maecenas, aspice partem.
admiranda tibit levium spectacular rerum,
magnanimosque duces, totiusque ordine gentis
mores, et studia, et populous, et proelia dicam.
in tenui labor; at tenuis non Gloria, si quem
numina laeva sinunt, auditque vocatus Apollo.”

From P. Vergili Maronis, Georgicon Liber IV, T.E. Page editor, MacMillan 1909
(pdf copy from http://www.textkit.com/learn/ID/163/author_id/80/)

“Next I’ll speak about the celestial gift of honey from the air.
Maecenas, give this section too your regard.
I’ll tell you in proper sequence about the greatest spectacle
of the slightest things, and of brave generals,
and a whole nation’s customs and efforts, tribes and battles.
Labour, over little: but no little glory, if favourable powers
allow, and Apollo listens to my prayer.”

 Virgil, Georgics Introduction to Book IV Beekeeping (Apiculture)
Translated by A. S. Kline, 2002
(from http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/VirgilGeorgicsIV.htm)

I have started with Virgil (or Dante did, see About), so it makes sense to continue on with him as my lodestar through Latin and beekeeping.  Perhaps it will not be as difficult to marry the two subjects as I had originally thought.  I do admit having to search out translations of the above passage to make complete sense of it.

Which confirms my beginner’s status as both Latin student and beekeeper.  And, I had thought my beginner’s status with the latter (just about a year into it) is the reason why I cannot at present enthuse over the ‘celestial gift of honey’.  If I am in a less charitable and self-recriminating mood, I attribute my lack of honey to the selfishness of the little madams who keep it all to themselves.

However, it may be that neither of us is to blame.  Firstly, some background on my hive:

  1. When and Where-Installed in ‘national hive’ last summer at the bottom of the garden/yard, where it is adjacent to fields, orchards, and a cherry tree victimized every year by a rapacious squirrel.
  2. Who-from a ‘nuc’ of deliberately swarmed bees from another kindly beekeeper, which we successfully transferred to our empty hive.
  3. The Queen-I have only found out recently that the queen is most likely coming into her third year of ‘laying’, making her somewhat middle-aged and potentially on her way out in the pheromone/fertility stakes.  Not that we are personally acquainted with her.  Despite our searches and the search of an expert beekeeper we have not been able to pick her out of the crowd.  However, we know she’s there because of the eggs, larvae etc we can see on the frames.
  4. Temperament-Docile, a term used by beekeepers.  I can stand right next to the hive, without suit or smoke, and watch them go about their business.  I regularly take the top off the hive to peer into it.  Usually they fly out to investigate, but don’t seem overly perturbed.  This doesn’t mean that they don’t get grumpy every once in a while, say if we have handled them a bit roughly during inspection or if they are in wasp-fighting mode.  So, they are not pushovers.
  5. Under Attack-And, they have sustained their share of attacks, from wasps and from woodpeckers, as we discovered after coming home from holiday in December.  Luckily, something must have startled the intruder, because the hive only sustained superficial damage.  My husband put a panel over the pin-sized hole, and the bees now look like they are in a maximum security prison with all the chicken wire surrounding the hive.
  6. Health-They have had their pesticide treatment in the fall, and any day now we are going to install a mesh floor, which will make it easier to monitor the amount of mites which might be present.  As it is still too early and cold to open the hive and examine things more closely, this would be one of the few ways right now to ensure that there is nothing seriously wrong.
  7. Happiness-Roundabout this time of year there is a danger of starvation, and I was particularly concerned going into winter for them as they seemed to produce only just enough stores. Consequently, I did put a bit of store-bought fondant icing in the hive.  I don’t think they have made use of it just yet, and as I see them flying about during the warmer spells, I think they are alright for now.  There are snowdrops, crocuses etc, but I haven’t really noticed them carrying any pollen yet.

As to this lack of honey, I have had two opinions offered.  The beekeeper who provided me with the bees says it is not unusual for them to produce little extra in the first year.  However, another beekeeper who had her bees from the same person told me that she is on her third year with the bees and they are still not producing much. But, she offered an interesting theory on this:  because the bees came from a place surrounded by fruit trees, she seems to think that they are more ‘pollinators’ than ‘producers’.  She said her own fruit trees are a testament to this theory as they have been exceptionally lush since the bees have been on the scene.  I had not thought that bees were either one or the other; I thought they were both, so I am going to have to look into this.  Maybe Virgil has something to say on the matter…

I wonder if this might be good news for the cherry tree?


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