Book IV -The Ideal Qualities of a Roman Citizen

Publii Virgilii Maronis Georgicorum libri quatuor. The Georgicks [sic] of Virgil, with an English Translation and Notes. John Martyn, F.R.S., Professor of Botany in the Unversity of Cambridge. The Second Edition. London: Printed by R. Reily, for T. Osborne, in Gray’s-Inn, 1746.

Book IV, Pages 426-447, being a Renaissance English translation from the Latin by John Martyn.

Now I shall proceed to show what manners Jupiter has added to the Bees; for what reward they following the loud sounds, and tinkling brass of the Curetes, fed the king of heaven under the Dictaean den.

They alone have children in common, and the united buildings of a city, and pass their lives under established laws; and they alone have a country of their own, and certain habitations: and being winter, they labour in summer, and lay up what they get for the public use.

Orpheus and Eurydice
An illustration of Cerinthe from the 1746 edition of The Georgicks of Virgil, by John Martyn. Acc# 214.13.10, James Logie Memorial Collection.

For some are employed in getting food, and by agreement labour in the fields: some within the house lay tears of daffodils, and tough glue from the barks of trees, for the foundations of the combs ; and then suspend the tenacious wax: others bring up the growing young, the hope of the nation: others work the purest honey, and distend their cells with liquid nectar. There are some to whose lot is fallen the guarding of gates: and these by turns consider the waters and clouds  of heaven, or unload the burdens of those who return, or forming a troop drive out the drones, a sluggish race from the hives. The work glows, and the fragrant honey is scented with thyme.

As when the Cyclops hasten to form thunder-bolts out of the stubborn mass; some receive the air and drive it out again from bellows made of bull hides: others plunge the hissing brass in water: Aetna groans with the weight of their anvils.They lift their arms with great force in tuneful order; and turn the iron with their griping tongs. Just so, if I may compare great things with small, does an innate desire of growing rich prompt the Athenian Bees, each of them in their proper Office. The elder have the care of their towns, repair the combs, and erect the artificial edifices. But the young return wearied home, late at night, with their thighs laden with thyme. They feed also at large on arbutus, and hoary willows, and casia, and glowing saffron, and fat limes, and deep coloured hyacinths.

All of them labour together, and all rest at the same time. In the morning they rush out of their gates without delay: and when the evening admonishes them to return at length from feeding in the fields, then they seek their habitations, and then they take care of their bodies. They make a murmuring noise, and hum out the sides and entrance of the hives. Afterwards, when they are laid down on their beds, they are silent all night, and a sweet sleep possesses their wearied limbs.

But when rain impends, they do not depart far from their hives, nor do they trust the sky, when east winds approach; but drink the water in safety near the walls of their city, and try short excursions; and take up little stones, as boats that totter on the tossing wave, take ballast: with these they poise themselves through the empty clouds.

But of all the properties of Bees this most of all will cause your wonder, that they do not copulate, or enervate their bodies by lust, or labour to bring forth their young. But they themselves gather their young from leaves and sweet herbs. They themselves also produce their king, and their small citizens: and repair their palaces and waxen realms. Often also, whilst they wander over the hard rocks, have they battered their wings, and voluntarily yielded up their lives under their bushes: so great is their love of flowers: such their glory in making honey.

Therefore, though their age has but a narrow bound, for they do not live above seven years, yet does the stock remain immortal, and the fortune of their family sublifts for many years, and they can number grandfathers of grandfathers. Besides neither Egypt, nor great Lydia, nor the people of the Parthians, nor the Median Hydaspes are so obsequious to their King. Whilst the King is safe, they remain united; but when he is dead, they dissolve their society, pull down the fabric of their honey, and tear in pieces the structure of their combs. He is the guard of their works : him they admire, and surrond with frequent shoutings, and crowd about him; and often carry him on their shoulders, and for his sake expose their bodies in war, and seek a glorious death by wounds.

Some being led by these appearances, and following these examples, have said that the Bees are endowed with a part of the divine mind, and with ethereal influences. For their opinion is that the Deity passes through the whole earth, the extent of the sea, and the height of the heaven. That hence the flocks, the herds, men, and all sorts of wild beasts, may all creatures, at their birth draw in their lives. That all of them, when dissolved, are hither returned: that there is no place for death, that they fly alive among the stars, and rise up to the high heaven.

If at any time you would open their august mansion, and the honey preserved in their treasures, first gargle your mouth with water and spit it out, and drive in persecuting smoke with your hand. Twice do they compress the plenteous honey; there are two seasons of taking it, one as soon as the Pleiad Taygete has shewn her beauteous face to the earth, and has spurned the despised waters of the ocean: or when the same star, flying from the constellations of the warty fish, descends mournfully into the waters of winter. They are wrathful above measure, and if they are offended they breathe venom into their stings, and leave their hidden darts fixt to the veins, and part with their lives in the wounds that they inflict.

But if you are afraid of a hard winter, and would provide for futurity, and take pity on their broken strength, and ruined affairs, yet who would hesitate to fumigate them with thyme, and cut away the empty wax? For often the sculking lizard has eaten the combs, and the chambers are full of beetles that avoid the light, the drone also that sits without labouring at repast belonging to another, or the fierce hornet has engaged them with unequal arms, or the dreadful race of moths, or the spider hated by Minerva hangs her loose nets at their doors. The more they are exhausted, the more pains will they take to repair the ruins of their falling family, and will fill up their cells, and form the combs of flowers.