Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bee Lesson

The clouds were lined with gold tonight. Not silver. Gold. I'm not being metaphorical for once. It's so beautiful outside! The wind is licking up the waves and the ropes are clanging against the masts of ships. People are outside enjoying the break from the oppressive heat, but I have to tell you, every gift has it's yang, and the yang is that I couldn't go swimming. The water was just too rough.  Instead I sat and watched the water being pushed around by Zephyros, Attikoulamou resting against the rail of the seawall.

I spent all day doing what is traditionally called the "Argolis" tour with a new driver we're working with. Let's call him Pedro. He drives a Viano, a souped up minivan presenting itself with a Mercedes logo and gray leather interior, one bench turned backward to be more like a limosine.

I sat in the back with my serene (the nice word for sleepy) clients and pointed out the window at various things. There was an echo in the car. It was the father's listening method to repeat the very last part of what I'd said. Demonstration:

"The Marathon Runner statue is standing at the official end of the first marathon race in 1896."
"Oh in 1896. The race."

"The climate in the Peloponnese is perfect for growing oranges and you should have some orange juice with lunch."
"We should have some for lunch, yes."

It was lovely actually. It's so nice to have someone listen to you. The funny part was that he was always chiming in just before I'd finished, like we were doing a campfire round.

My favorite part of the Argolis tour is showing people the Acrocorinth. It's your quintessential castle on a hill, used first for a temple of Aphrodite. When the men-folk took over the goddess worshippers, it was used to spy enemy ships or encroaching armies from far. You can see everything up there. Attica, Nemea, the Corinthean Gulf. You hear the kind of wind-whisper I've mentioned before...where you're sure you're being told something important but the language is such, you've long forgotten it, you just can't remember what it means.

I loved my sleepy people today. In between their choreographed routine of the car-nap head-bob, they made me laugh, I made them laugh, they listened to my stories. I told them all about the priests of Aphrodite being beekeepers, as bees were sacred to the goddess of Love and Beauty.

"sacred to the goddess of love and beauty!"

I noticed Pedro's eyes flicker with attention via the rearview mirror.

While they were at the site of Ancient Corinth, Pedro and I made a dash back to the highway for gas. He looked at me suspiciously.

"What were you saying about the priests of Aphrodite. I want to know."
I repeated that they were beekeepers of sacred bees.

"Where did you learn that?"

Hmmm! Where indeed?

The last two years I've spent absorbing everything I can put my mythologically itchy fingers on, trying desperately to catch up with over 2000 years of history of a culture that doesn't technically belong to me. Ways that I've researched include (but are not excluded to)
*Contacting Authors and having long chats.
*Sitting in bookstores for hours because there aren't libraries.
*Reading countless websites dedicated to mythology and Goddess stuff.
*Talking to people who just seem to know a lot.
*Downloading academic papers.
*Squinting over the tiny print of museum plaques.
*Renting videos from the library. (This was over the Christmas break. Thank you Montgomery County Public Library, I never really told you how much I appreciate you.)

And, I have to admit, after all of these things put together sometimes I feel that I have enough information to connect the dots and make theories of my own. Risky business, but it's the way I learn, also. I promise after I blurb something out completely wrong and hear about it after, I remember forever what is right.

 Now that I'm comfortably in front of my red security blanket, I mean laptop, I did a bit of research.

I found mention of it here, here and here:

The title Melissaios - or Bee-man, has a feminine counterpart in Mediterranean cultures called Melissa, of which Hilda Ransome informs us; “The title Melissa, the Bee, is a very ancient one; it constantly occurs in Greek Myths, meaning sometimes a priestess, sometimes a nymph.” This is an important observation, for the tradition of dancing Bee goddesses appears to have been preserved in a form of Bee maidens known as Melissa’s – or nymphs, and Greek deities such as Rhea and Demeter were widely known to have held the title. Additionally, the Greeks frequently referred to ‘Bee-Souls’ and bestowed the title of ‘Melissa’ on unborn souls. The 3rd century Greek philosopher and mathematician Porphyry of Tyre believed that souls arrived on earth in the form of Bees, having descended from the moon goddess Artemis, and that they were lured to terrestrial life by the promise of earthly delights, such as honey. Ironically, honey was also a symbol of death and was frequently used as an offering to the gods. The dualistic quality of honey is no coincidence, as the nectar and its maker – the Bee, appear to represent the very cycle of existence. One could say that as the Bee returns to its hive, so the Melissa returns to its god in the afterlife; the beginning is the end and the end is the beginning.

The definition of Melissa – the Honeybee

Bees, Melissa’s and caves go hand in hand in Mediterranean mythology – as we saw with Zeus, however the tradition may have commenced with the Bronze Age Mycenaean culture (1500 - 1100 BC) on the island of Ithaca in the Ionian Sea. The island, which was featured in Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad – the first Greek work to feature Bees - and the Odyssey, is renowned for a sacred cave with a curious double entrance; one passage orientated to Boreas – the god of the northern wind, and the other to Notus – the god of the southern wind. The cave was home to Bee goddess nymphs – or Melissa’s called Nagaden. Here Bees deposited honey in stone containers and traveled through the Boreas entrance in order to appease the god of the southern winds, who was known for destroying crops and giving rise to the planet Sirius in late summer. The portal was believed to be a divine ‘Path of the Gods’ that no mortal was permitted to cross, and even today the cave remains elusive to the casual traveler, residing in near anonymity in the vicinity of an ancient Olive tree believed to be at least 1500 years old.

It is fascinating, isn't it? Sparkly, mystical stuff that will have me forever looking at bees with wonder, but all of this to tell you, nowhere did I find that priests of Aphrodite are beekeepers. In fact, seems that the bee is more commonly associated with Artemis.

Did I imagine it?

"I'm a beekeeper," said Pedro.

And the discussion turned from wishy-washy goddess knowledge to hard core bee knowledge. Did you know they're using bees to sniff out bombs? Yes! They're apparently even better than dogs when you reward them with a little food for reacting to a specific scent. Documented here


It's worth noting that while searching, I came across this:

I'm not wondering why information gets scrambled in my head anymore.

Pedro loves bees. He waxed on about them as we were fueling, saying that when you study the way bees are organized, you see that humans are really, very silly. Because I don't actually know how bees are organized, I thought I would take a moment to understand. What I learned is that bees are efficiently organized according to their roles. Their roles are assigned accordingly: worker bees are sterile. They are not for making love. They are for making honey. Drones are the lovers. They are for fulfilling the queen, of which there is one. Her job is to make more bees.

There are nurse bees, who are worker bees not ready to leave the hive yet. Their job is to feed the larvae (baby bees) royal jelly. Now I'm quoting from the article because I love the way it's worded (article can be read here)

After that time, worker and drone larvae are fed on a mixed food composed of honey and pollen, while larvae destined to develop into queens are fed on royal jelly during their whole larval life of five days. Thus, queens can be reared from any worker larvae younger than three days.

They're kind of like an Indian Caste system in this way. Sorted out before they've even hatched and handed their destiny, which they live out until their death. They even need different times for hatching, the queen needing the shortest, the drone, the longest.

I learned more, but maybe you're not as interested in bees as me, Pedro, and, oh yes, my painting mentor and her "hippy bee wrangler." Apparently the city of Dallas doesn't appreciate my mentor keeping bees in her backyard and the "hippy bee wrangler" is going to relocate them.

"They do zip code honey in the hood.  my zip is her major source.  Love my gentle sweet industrious honey bees," says she.

So all of this to say, I think maybe I was wrong about the priests of Aphrodite being bee keeper, but it presented an opportunity to learn so much more! (Here would be a nice place to insert my gold lined clouds as a metaphor, but I'm resisting.)

You know, sometimes I'm wrong. That's just all there is to it. I'm Paige. A person. Not a bee. I don't know my destiny. I'm lucky when I know what it is I'm supposed to be doing when I wake up in the day. I do the best I can and lately I end up bitching about what went wrong late at night via this place that I write stuff. It doesn't mean I don't get up the next day and try again. Get a few things right, the other things wrong, repeat.

Just sayin'.


I got a stern lecture from Pedro about cross checking my information. I complained saying that the myths are constantly told in different ways, according to who is telling them, according to the political climate of the time, and whether or not there are hidden meanings in the telling... it's all terribly subjective.

"Yes, but it is important. You must try to learn which is the right one."

If anyone happens to know anything about ancient bee keepers...