Saturday, January 18, 2014
Bees & beehives from medieval Illuminated Manuscripts
At a time when many believed that bees were small birds, Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 11, 4-23) wrote of bees: They belong to neither the wild or domesticated class of animals. Of all insects, bees alone were created for the sake of man. They collect honey, make wax, build structures, work hard, and have a government and leaders. They retire for the winter, since they cannot endure cold. They build their hives of many materials gathered from various plants. They gather honey from flowers close to the hive, and send out scouts to farther pastures when the nearby flowers are exhausted; if the scouts cannot return before nightfall, they make camp and lie on their backs to protect their wings from dew. They post a guard at the gates of the hive, and after sleeping until dawn they are woken by one of their number and all fly out together, if the weather is fine. They can forecast wind and rain so they know when not to go out. The young bees go out to collect materials while the old work indoors. Honey comes out of the air; in falling from a great height it accumulates dirt and is stained with the vapor of the earth; it becomes purified after the bees collect it and allow it to ferment in the hive. Smoke is used to drive away the bees so their honey can be collected, though too much smoke kills them. Out of several possible candidates, bees select the best to be king, and kill the others to avoid division; the king is twice as large as other bees, is brilliantly colored, and has a white spot on his brow. The common bees obey and protect the king, as they are unable to be without him. Bees like the sound of clanging bronze, which summons them together. Dead bees can be revived if they are covered with mud and the body of an ox or bull.