Saturday, November 11, 2006

immortal bees

though each a life of narrow span,
Ne'er stretched to summers more than seven, befalls,
Yet deathless doth the race endure, and still
Perennial stands the fortune of their line,
From grandsire unto grandsire backward told.

Bees are a rich classical topos. In Virgil's Georgics, they provide an emblem of the immortality of the species. Later in the same book, they occasion a story of expiation and rebirth:

Then, when the ninth dawn had led in the day,
To Orpheus sent his funeral dues, and sought
The grove once more. But sudden, strange to tell
A portent they espy: through the oxen's flesh,
Waxed soft in dissolution, hark! there hum
Bees from the belly; the rent ribs overboil
In endless clouds they spread them, till at last
On yon tree-top together fused they cling,
And drop their cluster from the bending boughs.
Bees enjoyed a long and distinguished afterlife in European publishing, as illustrated by this lovely blog.

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