Book IV -The Ideal Qualities of a Roman Citizen

Being the son of a beekeeper, Virgil held in great awe the committed labour that bees put into their hive on a daily basis. His respect for bees can be seen throughout Book IV of the Georgics, but is particularly evident in this passage.

Orpheus and Eurydice
The organised beehive was inspiration for New Zealand's government buildings, as seen in this design for the One Dollar coin by James Johnstone. UC/MBL/2095, UC Art Collection.

The passage describes a beehive as a nation of its own, in which the citizens are all assigned positions that work for the benefit of the country as a whole. Be they young and fit enough to forage for pollen, or older and strong enough to upkeep the walls of the city, each bee has a specific purpose according to their ability and the needs of the general population. It is a society of collaboration and peace under the ultimate rule of a single monarch, never doubted or challenged.

In many ways Virgil sees the beehive as an ideal society, and so this passage depicts the desired qualities of a Roman citizen, with praise especially for teamwork and respect for others. Virgil believes that if Rome were more like a beehive, it would function with greater success and social tranquility.

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