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  • pg 72pg 73 Editor’s Note Link 1Which brings me to heaven's gift of honey,* or manna, if you will.
  • Link 2Lend kind ears to this part, my lord, Maecenas, in which I'll tell
  • Link 3about a small society comprising systems worthy of your high esteem.
  • 4Its leaders great of heart, its customs, character, and conflicts—
  • 5these I'll report, bit by bit, as is appropriate.
  • Link 6A humble theme—but far from humble is the fame
  • 7for one spared by the gods, if his voice attract Apollo's ear.
  • Link 8First find a site and station for the bees
  • 9far from the ways of the wind (for wind obstructs them bringing home
  • 10whatever they may forage), with neither ewes nearby nor butting kids
  • 11to trample down the blossom—to say nothing of a heifer
  • 12straying through the dew and flattening growing grass.
  • Link 13And keep out from their grazing grounds the lizard with its ornate back,
  • 14the bee-eater, and other creatures of the air,
  • Editor’s Note15not least the fabled swallow, Procne, her breast still bearing stains* from her bloodied hands,
  • 16for all of these lay widespread waste—they'll snatch your bees on the wing
  • 17and bear them off in their mouths, a tasty snack for greedy nestlings.
  • 18  Make sure you have at hand clear springs and pools with moss-fringed rims,
  • 19a rippling stream that rambles through the grass,
  • 20and have a palm or outsize oleaster to cast its shadow on the porch,
  • Link 21so that, in spring that they so love, when sent out by the queens
  • pg 7422first swarms of young and new bees issued from the hive
  • 23may play; a river bank nearby might tempt them to retire from the heat
  • 24and, on their way and in their way, a leafy tree entices them to tarry.
  • 25Whether water there is standing still or flowing
  • 26lob rocks into its middle and willow logs to lie crosswise
  • 27so they'll have stepping stones where they can take a rest
  • 28and spread their wings to dry by the fires of the sun, all this
  • 29in case an east wind occurred to sprinkle them
  • 30while they were dawdling, or dunked them head first in the drink.
  • 31Let all around be gay with evergreen cassia, spreads of fragrant thyme
  • 32and masses of aromatic savory. Let violet beds absorb moisture from the rills and runnels.
  • 33So to the hives themselves. Whether you've woven them of hollowed bark
  • 34or laid down a thatch of supple twigs,
  • Link 35give them a narrow opening. For winter's cold
  • 36makes honey hard, just as surfeit of heat causes it to melt and run.
  • Link 37Fear each of these extremes in equal measure. It's not for nothing
  • 38bees seal their tiny ceiling vents with daubs of wax,
  • 39or close the openings with a mastic made from flower blossoms.
  • 40And to this very end they generate accumulations of such glue,
  • Link 41more viscous than birdlime or pitch from Asia Minor.
  • 42And frequently, they'll even dig a hiding place (if what is told is true)
  • 43to make a snug home underground; or be discovered
  • 44ensconced within the cavities of pumice and the chambers of dead trees.
  • 45But you, you should still skim their leaky nests with light coats of mud
  • 46to keep them warm, and top them with a layer of leaves.
  • pg 7547And don't allow a yew tree grow near their abode;
  • 48don't roast red crabs at your hearth, don't risk a murky pool,
  • 49nor anywhere where there's a pungent odour, nor any place
  • Link 50where hollow rocks return with eerie echoes anything you say.
  • Link 51  And furthermore, when the golden sun has beaten winter back
  • 52below the ground and aired the sky in summer's light,
  • 53they lose no time in touring woods and fields and sampling fruits of flowers
  • Link 54and sipping from the water's brim—and all this while they're on the wing;
  • Editor’s Note Link 55and, though enraptured by such strange delight,* they mind
  • Link 56their nestlings and newborn, seed and breed of them,
  • 57and use their special skills to shape new cells and press the sticky honey home.
  • 58Then, when you lift your eyes and see a swarm discharged
  • 59to ride the skies, a moving smudge through summer,
  • 60and marvel at a darksome cloud trailing down the wind,
  • 61keep note of how they make—yes—make a beeline
  • 62for fresh water and a leafy shade. Then, in that very spot,
  • 63sprinkle tastes prescribed as treats: balm you've crushed,
  • 64blades of honeywort and borage; have Cybele's cymbals fill the air.
  • 65They'll make themselves at home in this charmed site,
  • 66and set up on their own—as is their wont—a cradle for their young in its inner reaches.
  • Link 67  On the other hand, if maybe they've come out for fight—for frequently,
  • Editor’s Note68when you've two queens,* troubles explode in all-out civil war,
  • 69as quick as lightning you'll pick up on the common mood and feel
  • 70from miles away a restiveness, raring to go, hearts set on confrontation.
  • 71There you'll hear martial music—a raucous theme to galvanize the undecided,
  • 72a swarming tone that brings to mind the broken blasts of a bugle-horn.
  • pg 7673Then, though they're agitated, they assemble; their pinions gleam and glint,
  • 74and on their beaks they hone their stings; they are limbering up.
  • 75They jostle round the queen, the whole way to her headquarters,
  • 76and with loud noises challenge their enemies to engage.
  • 77Then, on a given day—clear skies, fields plain to see—
  • 78they'll burst out of the entranceway, charge, lock forces high in the sky—
  • 79a mounting racket—and, mingled and massed into a ball,
  • 80trip and fall headlong: never was hail thicker,
  • 81nor a shower of acorns that rained down from a shaken oak.
  • 82  The queens themselves proceed along the ranks, their wings conspicuous,
  • 83a mighty passion seething in their tiny frames,
  • Link 84determined not to give an inch until the victor's heavier hand
  • 85has forced one side or other to turn their backs and run.
  • 86And still a rising so incensed, or combat so enormous,
  • 87a mere handful of dust will check and put to rest.
  • 88  But when you have recalled both leaders from the battle
  • 89select the one that looks the worse for wear and do him down, to death,
  • Link 90to save all that would be a waste on him and leave the way open for his vanquisher to hold sway in the hive.
  • 91        For you'll find there are two kinds of bees—
  • 92the one aglow with golden flecks—the one you want—
  • 93its bright, distinguished reddish mail; the other a sight,
  • 94the picture of pure laziness, its sagging paunch distended to the ground.
  • 95And as there are two sets of qualities in queens, so the masses
  • 96differ too, one sort a dread, just like that traveller who fetches up
  • 97caked in dust and spits out dirt to clear his throat;
  • 98the other resplendent, their brightness flashing,
  • 99with matching specks of gold a pattern on their bodies.
  • 100It's their offspring you'd favour: from them, at the appointed time,
  • pg 77101you'll get the best of honey, not just the best for sweetness,
  • 102but for clearness, too, and its ability to take the edge off a rough wine.
  • 103  But when the swarms fly off without a point or purpose and caper
  • 104in the sky with no thought for their combs and leave their homes to cool
  • Link 105you must intervene to sway their idle minds from such inconstant play;
  • Link 106nor is that intervention hard: pick up the queens, pinch their wings and pluck them off.
  • 107While they stay put, none of the others dares take to the air,
  • 108nor budge a standard from the camp.
  • 109Let there be gardens to amuse them, with the scent of brightly coloured flowers.
  • Editor’s Note110Let Priapus of Hellespont* stand guard,
  • 111armed with a curved willow branch to fend off attacks by birds and burglars.
  • 112Have him, and none but him, who cares to do such things, carry
  • 113from the mountains thyme and wild laurel, and set them all around the hives;
  • 114have him, and none but him, wear his hands hard with work;
  • 115have him, and none but him, plant healthy plants and water them with friendly showers.
  • Link 116Indeed, if I were not already near the limit of my undertaking,
  • 117furling my sails and hurrying my prow to shore,
  • Link 118it may be that my song would turn to fruitful gardens and the loving labours
  • Link 119that embellish them, to those rose beds that flower twice a year at Paestum,
  • 120to how endive delights in drinking from the brook
  • 121whose banks are rife with celery, and how cucumber winds its way
  • 122through grass and swells into big bladders; nor would I not speak of
  • pg 78123the narcissus, late to leaf, nor of the bendy stem of bear's breech, that is acanthus,
  • 124or pale ivy, or myrtle that's so fond of shores.
  • Link 125  I mind it well, beneath the arched turrets of Tarentum,
  • Link 126where deep Galaesus irrigates the goldening fields,
  • Link 127I set my eyes on an old man, a Cilician who
  • 128had a few forsaken roods that wouldn't feed a calf,
  • 129not to mention fatten cattle, and no way fit for vines.
  • 130Still, he scattered in the thickset his vegetables and a lily border,
  • 131vervain and poppies that you'd eat—in his mind the match of anything
  • 132a king might have, and when he came home late at night
  • 133he'd pile the table high with feasts no one had paid money for.
  • 134  In spring, with roses first for picking, and autumn, apples—
  • 135and yet, while winter's hardest frosts were splitting
  • 136stones in two and putting stops to water's gallop,
  • 137he'd be already clipping hyacinth's frail foliage
  • 138and muttering about summer's late arrival and the dallying west winds.
  • Link 139Likewise, his bees were first to breed, first to swarm,
  • 140and first to gather honey and have it spilling from the comb.
  • 141He had lime trees and a wealth of shrubs in flower,
  • 142and as many as the blossoms with which each tree
  • 143bedecked itself early in the year was the number ripening later on.
  • 144He'd been known in his day to set in rows elms that were well grown,
  • 145a hardy pear, and thorns already bearing sloes,
  • 146a plane tree that provided shade for drinking under.
  • Link 147The like of this, however, I must forgo—time and space conspiring
  • 148to defeat me—and leave for later men to make more of.
  • Link 149So listen now, while I outline the qualities bestowed on bees by Jupiter
  • 150as his reward for their attention to the Curetes'
  • pg 79151songlike sounds, their shields clashing like cymbals,
  • Editor’s Note152and for nourishing our king of heaven in that Cretan cave.*
  • Link 153  They alone share the care of their young and live united in one house,
  • 154and lead lives subject to the majesty of law.
  • 155They alone recognize the full worth of home and homeland.
  • Link 156Mindful that winter follows, they set to work in summer
  • Link 157and store what they acquire for the common good.
  • Link 158Some are responsible for food and by a fixed agreement
  • 159keep busy in the fields, others stay within the walls
  • 160and lay down as the first foundation of the comb the tear of a narcissus
  • 161and sticky resin from the bark of trees from which they then suspend the clinging honey cells.
  • 162  Others are appointed to bring up the young, the future of the race,
  • 163while others still pack the honey, the purest honey,
  • 164and stuff the cells with perfect nectar. Some,
  • 165allotted to be sentries at the alighting boards,
  • 166take turns to keep an eye on clouds and coming rain
  • Link 167and to relieve the homing bees of their burdens, or, having rounded up a troop,
  • 168keep out the drones, that lazy shower, from the mangers.
  • Link 169Full steam ahead! The honey smacks of fragrant thyme.
  • 170  The same as when the Cyclopes hammered thunderbolts
  • 171from stubborn lumps of ore, some worked the bullhide bellows out and in
  • 172to fan the give and take of breezes, and others dipped the bronze
  • Editor’s Note173to sizzle in the trough, while Etna groaned beneath the weight of anvils;*
  • Link 174as one, they flex the muscles of their arms in rhythm, upwards and down,
  • 175and keep the iron that's being turned gripped tightly in their tongs.
  • 176  So, if it's all right to liken little things to great,
  • Link 177an innate love of ownership impels the bees of Cecrops
  • pg 80178each through his own responsibility. The elders' cares include
  • Link 179the fortifying of the comb and moulding of intricate shelters.
  • 180Come night, the youngsters haul themselves back home, exhausted,
  • 181leg-baskets loaded down with thyme; they pick randomly on wild strawberry,
  • 182the blue-grey willow, spurge laurel (that's the bee plant), blushing saffron,
  • 183and a luxury of limes and lindens and lilies tinted rust.
  • 184As one they rest; as one they work.
  • 185Come morning, and a hurry from the hives, all go and no delay,
  • 186until the evening star suggests that they return from where
  • Link 187they're gleaning and retire. Then they head home, where they attend to themselves.
  • 188You'll hear a hum—their mumble thickening around the doors
  • 189and on the doorsteps—until afterwards when they've settled in their chambers
  • 190and a stillness reigns, and well-earned sleep overtakes their weary limbs.
  • 191  Nor will they stray far from the hives when rain is on its way
  • 192or trust the weather in the face and force of an east wind,
  • 193but from the safety of the walls they venture on brief sorties
  • 194to fetch a drop of water and, often, little pebbles—
  • 195the way a skimpy boat tossed here and there in the waves' mercy
  • 196takes on a load of ballast—to steady themselves as they fly high as pleases them.
  • Link 197  In fact they have another habit—you'll wonder how it ever did find favour—
  • Link 198that is, that bees refrain from intercourse, their bodies never
  • 199weaken into the ways of love, nor suffer pangs of labour.
  • 200Instead, themselves, they pick their young up in their mouths
  • Link 201from leaves and lovely meadows; all by themselves, they'll supply
  • 202the city with a queen and little citizens, and so maintain the royal court and realm of wax.
  • Link 203  Often, too, while wandering, they'll graze their wings on jagged rocks
  • pg 81 Link 204and beneath their burden pay the final sacrifice—
  • 205such is their love for flowers and pride in the production of the honey.
  • Link 206Therefore, although there's but brief life allotted to each one of them
  • 207(the most they have is seven summers), their kind can't be killed off
  • 208and, years on top of years, their houses stay in good standing
  • Link 209and their ancestral rolls include grandfathers of their fathers.
  • 210  What's more, there was not in Egypt or the whole of Lydia,
  • Editor’s Note211nor among the Parthians or the Medes,* such regard for royalty.
  • 212When their queen's safe and sound, they're all at peace.
  • 213But when she dies their trust is shredded, and they take to wrecking
  • 214honey halls and sacking well-wrought honeycombs.
  • 215Of all they do, she is the patron—that's why they all look up to
  • 216and surround her, bustling with a loud hubbub.
  • Link 217Sometimes they'll hold her up on high; for her they'll lay down lives
  • Link 218and count it a death with honour, the one from wounds in battle.
  • 219  By such signs, and on foot of such examples,
  • Link 220some say that bees have supped a draught that is divine,
  • 221that, as a matter of true fact, a god pervades the whole wide world,
  • 222sea's expanse and heaven's height,
  • 223whence flocks and herds and men, and all species of savage beast,
  • 224derive that fine line of life the second they are born.
  • 225And, what's more, to him all things return in time, dissolved
  • 226and reabsorbed; there is no place for death—instead they soar,
  • 227still alive—to take their rightful place among the stars.
  • Link 228  If you happen ever to broach the storehouse where they hoard the honey
  • 229be sure you have first washed your mouth out with a sup of water,
  • 230then surround your seeing fingers with smoke to still and settle them.
  • 231Twice in the year men harvest honey,
  • pg 82Editor’s Note Link 232once, when Taÿgete of the Seven Sisters* shows the world her comely face
  • 233and spurns the ocean currents with a shrug,
  • Editor’s Note234and again when, trying to escape from Pisces,* she slides down the sky
  • 235beneath the waves, a sorry sight, and drowns.
  • 236  There's no end to the wrath of bees—vexed, they'll inflame their stings
  • 237with poison and, fastening to a vein, deposit darts that you can't see—
  • 238inflicting harm, they'll forfeit their own lives.
  • Link 239  But if you fear a winter will be hard, and would look out for them,
  • 240in pity for their bruised and battered spirit, a state brought to its knees,
  • 241who would hesitate to purify the hive with smoking heads of thyme
  • 242and lop off useless cells, for oftentimes an eft, unnoticed, has been gnawing
  • 243at the comb, or the nest's a mess of cockroaches that shun the light,
  • 244and there's a drone—that good-for-nothing—squatting down to scoff another's feed.
  • 245Or a savage hornet has entered in the fray with its unfair advantage,
  • Editor’s Note246or the dreaded moth, or, just as bad, a spider, Minerva's fateful enemy,*
  • 247has slung its fatal web across the frame.
  • 248The more trials sent to test them, the keener they become, one and all,
  • 249to throw themselves into the mending of their tumbled world.
  • 250They re-stock the rows, and weave the store's new walls with fruit of flowers.
  • Link 251  If, in fact, life brings to bees the same misfortunes as to us
  • 252their bodies may fall faint with grievous illness
  • 253whose signs you'll have no trouble recognizing.
  • pg 83254The minute they grow sick their colour changes, a haggard look disfigures features,
  • Link 255and they carry out into the open those whose life's light is quenched,
  • 256a sorrowful procession, and either hang around
  • 257the threshold, their feet tucked up beneath them,
  • 258or shuffle slowly in the temple,
  • 259the all of them weak with the hunger and perished with the cold.
  • 260Then you hear a deeper sound, drawn out,
  • Link 261the way the south winds rumbled once through frozen forests,
  • 262the way a troubled sea shrieks and creaks at ebb-tide;
  • 263or a raging fire roars in a furnace with the door shut tight.
  • 264  When things have come to this I recommend you light galbanum for its scent,
  • 265and pipe in honey through a reed, going to no end of bother
  • 266to encourage them, the worn and weary ones, and coax them back to food they know and love.
  • 267It will help to have a blend of pounded galls, those acrid oak-apples,
  • 268with dried leaves of roses, or must reduced a long time
  • 269over an open flame, and raisins from the Psythian vine,
  • 270thyme from Athens, and pungent centaury.
  • Editor’s Note271And growing in the meadows there's a flower farmers call 'amellus',*
  • 272that is star wort, and it's not hard to find, for it raises from a single root
  • 273a veritable forest—itself is golden-lined
  • 274but in the petals it produces so abundantly
  • 275a purple glow shimmers through deep violet.
  • 276Many's the time it's been employed to decorate the altars of the gods.
  • Link 277Its taste is bitter. Shepherds pick it in
  • 278the close-cropped valleys along the winding Mella.
  • 279Take my word. Boil its roots in a strong-smelling wine
  • 280and serve it to the bees in baskets left beside their doorways.
  • pg 84 Link 281It can happen in a flash that someone's stock completely fails—
  • 282and he can see no way to supplant it with new blood.
  • Link 283Time then to let you in on what that great Arcadian keeper
  • Editor’s Note Link 284first discovered,* that is—this happened often—that putrid blood
  • Link 285of slaughtered cattle brought new swarms into being.
  • Link 286  Listen. I'll tell all from the root to bloom, share all I've heard.
  • Editor’s Note Link 287For where Pellaean people live their happy lives beside Canopus on the Nile*
  • 288whose flowing waters form floodpools
  • 289on which they do their rounds in brightly painted pinnaces
  • 290and where the Persians, race of archers, crowd in close as neighbours,
  • 291and a tumbling torrent splits into its seven deltas—
  • 292the river, which has travelled all the way from the land of sun-bronzed Ethiopians
  • 293and which fertilizes fertile Egypt with dank sands—that's where
  • 294the continued well-being of the bees rests safe and surely on the skill I've promised to describe.
  • 295First they choose an area, a place made smaller for this very purpose,
  • 296enclosed with roof tiles and its walls pressed in.
  • 297Then they add four apertures that face four quarters
  • 298of the wind and admit a slanting light.
  • 299Then they'll pick a bull calf out, his two years' growth of horn a crown upon his brow,
  • 300and plug his nostrils and, despite the fight he'll offer, put a stop to his breathing.
  • 301And when he's been assailed with blows, and while his hide
  • 302is still unbroken, they'll pummel to a pulp his flesh.
  • 303  That's how they leave him, shut away in that enclosure, beneath his ribcage
  • 304piles of branches, thyme, and newly picked spurge laurel.
  • 305All this proceeds while west winds first play on the waves,
  • Link 306before spring restores a flush of colour to the face of fields,
  • 307before the chattering swallow attaches her nest to the rafters.
  • pg 85308Meanwhile, the bullock's tender bones begin to heat and ferment
  • 309and—astonishing to see—strange animals appear,
  • 310with, at first, no feet to speak of, then with wings whirring,
  • 311as they mill around on their play flights, first here, then there,
  • 312and then spill out like heavy showers poured from summer clouds,
  • 313or like those arrows the lightly armed Parthians unleash from bows to strike the first blows in battle.
  • 314  O Muses, say what god was it
  • Link 315who with this miracle advanced the minds of men?
  • Link 316The shepherd, Aristaeus, turned his back on Tempe, through
  • Editor’s Note Link 317which the Peneius flows*—
  • Link 318or so the story goes—his bees all lost to hunger and disease,
  • Link 319and stood heartsore and sorry at the sacred river's source
  • Editor’s Note320and, in words like these, directed his complaint to the one who bore him,*
  • Link 321'Mother of mine, Mother Cyrene, whose home is in the depths
  • Link 322of this deep water, how could you bear me to this noble line of gods—
  • 323(if it's true, as you assert, Apollo is my father)—
  • Link 324for fate itself to turn against me? Oh, whither has your love for me been driven?
  • 325Why did you teach me to reach up my hopes to heaven?
  • Link 326Look! Even this distinction of my mortal being,
  • 327hard won by me through expert care of crops and cattle
  • 328and nothing stinted, and even with you for a mother, I must give up.
  • Link 329Then why not, while you're at it, uproot with your own hands my fruiting forests,
  • 330burn down my stalls, wipe out the harvest I have won,
  • 331set fire to all that I have in the ground, and launch attacks on my vines
  • 332with a battleaxe, if you have grown so displeased with any good I've done.'
  • pg 86Editor’s Note Link 333  Deep in the river,* in her chamber, his mother listened to his cry,
  • Link 334while all around her, carding fleeces from Miletus,
  • 335all of them dyed bottle blue, were nymphs
  • 336whose names are Drymo, Xantho, Ligea, and Phyllodoce,
  • 337fair heads of hair cascading down their shining necks […]
  • 339and Cydippe, and fairhaired Lycorias, the one a maiden still,
  • 340the other fresh from pangs of labour, her first nativity,
  • 341and there was Clio and her sister Beroe, the two of them the daughters of Oceanus,
  • 342the two of them bedecked with gold and both dressed up in coloured skins,
  • 343and there was Ephyre and Opis and Asian Deiopeia,
  • 344and fleet-footed Arethusa, her bow and arrows put away at last.
  • Link 345And in their midst was Clymene, rambling on about
  • Editor’s Note346Vulcan's efforts all in vain and Mars' deception and the joy he stole,*
  • Editor’s Note Link 347elaborating all the loves of all the gods, from Chaos' time to ours.*
  • 348  And as they sat enthralled, winding soft wool from the spindle,
  • 349Aristaeus' mourning made its way again into his mother's ear
  • Link 350and all of them, seated on their crystal chairs, were paralysed, struck dumb—
  • 351till Arethusa, before any of the others,
  • Link 352raised her golden head above the water to find the sorrow's source
  • Link 353and cried out from afar, 'Oh, not for nothing has a sigh caused you such fright,
  • Link 354sister Cyrene, for it is he, poor Aristaeus, who's nearest and most dear to you,
  • Link 355who is standing by the waters of our father Peneius, a well of tears,
  • 356and he's naming you the hard-hearted one.'
  • Link 357His mother then, her mind wild with new feeling, called,
  • Link 358'Yes, bring him, bring him over here, he has a right to walk
  • pg 87359where the gods walk.' And at once she bade the waters part
  • 360and made a pathway for her son's passage.
  • 361Then all around him waves crested like mountain peaks
  • 362and, safe in that embrace, bore him below the water.
  • Link 363  And now, in wonder of his mother's home, her watery realm,
  • 364pools forming part of caverns and gurgling groves,
  • Link 365he wanders, astounded by majestic movements of the water,
  • 366rivers rippling under earth's great dome and reaching out
  • 367in all directions—one called Phasis, and another Lycus,
  • 368and the source from which the deep Enipeus makes its first appearance,
  • 369and from which father Tiber, and Anio, come streaming,
  • Link 370and rattling down through rocks, Hypanis, and Caicus of Mysia,
  • 371and that river that wears a bull's expression, and gilded horns,
  • Link 372Eridanus, than which no river throws itself more forcefully
  • 373through rich farmlands into shining sea.
  • 374  Then, when he reached his mother's chamber, its hanging softstone roof,
  • 375and Cyrene had recognized his idle tears,
  • Link 376his sisters formed a line to offer him
  • 377spring water for his hands and special cloths to dry them.
  • 378Others piled the table high with dishes for the feast
  • 379and kept refilling goblets, while others still fuelled the altar fires with incense from Arabia.
  • 380His mother then spoke out, 'Raise up your glasses, let's drink a toast of wine
  • Editor’s Note381to Oceanus.'* And then to him, of everything the father,
  • Link 382she said her private prayer, and to the sisterhood of nymphs,
  • 383guardians of a hundred forests, and a hundred rivers, too.
  • Link 384And then three times she sprinkled nectar on the sacred hearth,
  • 385three times a flame flared to the ceiling, giving out its light,
  • 386a sign to lift the heart, and then she spoke these words:
  • Editor’s Note Link 387'Deep in Carpathian woods, there is a prophet by the name of Proteus,*
  • 388who is the colour of the sea, who travels the wide watery range
  • pg 88389pulled by a team that's one half fish, the other half two-leggèd horse.
  • 390And as we speak, he is returning to the havens of Emathia and Pallene,
  • 391the place where he was born—it's him, we nymphs
  • Editor’s Note Link 392and even agèd Nereus,* revere, for everything is known
  • 393to that seer—whatever was, what is, and all that is to come.
  • 394(For this is just what Neptune wanted—whose herds
  • 395of fulsome seals he pastures underneath the waves.)
  • 396He's the one that you, my son, must bind in chains
  • 397so he'll explain the sorry story of the cause of sickness and bring it to a good conclusion.
  • Link 398If he's not forced he'll tell you nothing,
  • 399nor will you bring him round by begging. Brute strength alone
  • 400will grind him down and run his useless wiles aground.
  • 401I myself, when the sun has turned noon's heat full up,
  • Link 402when grasses shrivel and herds appreciate the shade,
  • 403will bring you to the old man's private quarters where he retreats
  • 404exhausted from work in the waves, where you'll be able to accost him as he lies asleep.
  • 405But even when you've grabbed a hold of him and fettered him
  • 406he'll conjure different forms and features of wild animals to foil you.
  • 407One minute he'll become a bristling boar, a shady tiger,
  • 408scaly snake, or lion with its tawny mane,
  • 409or burst into a whiff of flame to slough off his chains,
  • 410or melt into thin air—and away with him!
  • 411But the more he plies his repertoire of shapes,
  • 412my son, the more you must maintain a grip
  • 413till his physique reverts and so resumes the profile
  • 414you first set eyes on when you found him, draped beneath the weight of sleep.'
  • 415  And after she had said her say, she poured a perfume of ambrosia and covered her son's body, tip to toe, so that
  • pg 89416from the hairs of his combed head a sweet essence emanated
  • 417and strength returned to his nimble limbs.
  • Link 418        Etched into a mountainside,
  • 419there's an enormous cavern where wave on wave
  • 420driven by the wind shatters itself in the recesses,
  • 421time after time the safest shelter for sailors waylaid in a storm.
  • 422That's where you'll find this Proteus—hiding behind a shield of rock.
  • 423  And there, just there the nymph instructs the boy to lie in ambush
  • 424when it's dark, while she stands hard by hidden in a mist.
  • Link 425The Dog Star by this time was all ablaze, burning up the sky and leaving the people of the Indies
  • 426parched with the thirst, and the fiery sun had gobbled
  • Editor’s Note427half his daily course,* the grasses wilted and withered, and the shrivelled river beds,
  • 428their dried-up channels, were baked to dust by its beams' burn.
  • Link 429  While Proteus was making from the waves to the cave,
  • 430as was his wont, round about him ran the race of mermen
  • 431and splashed the briny spray here, there and everywhere.
  • 432Seals lay about along the shore and settled down to sleep,
  • Editor’s Note433while he, the master, like that herdsman in the mountains,*
  • 434when twilight draws young cattle from the outfields
  • Link 435and the lambs' baa-ing grabs the wolves' attention,
  • Link 436sat himself down on a rock and took stock of every one of them.
  • 437  Aristaeus saw his chance—and seized it.
  • 438He scarcely gave the old man a split second to compose his tired self,
  • 439but rushed in with a roar and slapped the chains on him
  • 440before he could get up. But he, to nature true and conscious of his powers,
  • 441transformed himself into the weirdest things—
  • 442fire, or a fearsome beast, or rushing stream—
  • 443but of these ruses none succeeded in securing his escape
  • 444and, subjugated, he resumed his former and first self, and then, with a human's voice,
  • pg 90 Link 445spoke up, and asked, 'Who ordered you, most bold of youths,
  • 446to break into our homes, what do you want of me?' And Aristaeus answered,
  • 447'But, Proteus, you know, it's well you know, for nothing can be lost on you;
  • 448desist, and don't pretend otherwise. I come, instructed by the gods,
  • Link 449to find an answer and a reason for what has left me weary and worn out.'
  • 450  That's all he said. At this, at last, the seer turned his sea-green eyes
  • Link 451and stared at him. Then, grinding his teeth hard,
  • Link 452he opened up to explain his destiny,
  • Link 453'Don't think they don't have gods' support, the angers you are weighted with,
  • Editor’s Note Link 454you're paying for a grievous offence. For it is Orpheus,* the pitiful,
  • 455who is handing down this punishment, by no means as much as you deserve,
  • Link 456had fate not stood in the way, for his bitter rage about his bride's abduction.
  • Link 457It's true, in hasty flight from you, she failed to see—
  • Link 458doomed as she was—hiding in tall grass and right in front of her,
  • 459the seven-headed serpent, a sentry on the river bank.
  • Editor’s Note Link 460Then the chorus of her peers, the Dryads,* filled the mountaintops with their lament,
  • 461the heights of Rhodope cried out, too, in mourning,
  • 462as did lofty Pangaea, and the land of warring Rhesus,
  • Link 463and the Getae, the river Hebrus and the princess Orithyia.
  • Link 464  'Heartsick and sore, Orpheus sought consolation on his lyre,
  • Editor’s Note465a hollowed tortoiseshell.* Of you, sweet wife, of you, he sang his sorry song,
  • 466all lonesome on the shore, at dawning of the day, of you, at day's decline, of you.
  • Editor’s Note467He risked even the gorge of Taenarus,* the towering portals of the underworld,
  • pg 91 Link 468and the abode of spirits where darkness reigns like a dismal fog;
  • Link 469these he passed through to approach the shades and their scaresome lord,
  • Link 470those hearts that don't know how to be swayed by human pleas for prayers.
  • Link 471But, unsettled by his singing, from the nether reach of Hell,
  • 472came insubstantial phantoms, like those who have lived long away from light,
  • 473teeming like the countless birds that lurk among the leaves
  • 474until, at evening time, winter rains herd them home from the hills,
  • 475mothers and men, the build of once big-hearted heroes,
  • 476now dead and done with; boys, too, and unwed girls,
  • Link 477and youths borne on their funeral pyres before their parents' eyes—
  • Link 478around whom lay the clabber, and disfigured reed beds by Cocytus, that kept them
  • 479locked in, among stagnant pools and murky marshes,
  • 480and the Styx' nine coils that kept them prisoner.
  • 481Instead they froze, spellbound, Death's inner rooms and depths of Tartarus,
  • 482the Furies, too, their hair a knot of writhing snakes,
  • 483and gawking Cerberus stopped in his tracks, his three mouths open wide,
  • Editor’s Note Link 484and Ixion's wheel, wind-propelled, settled to a standstill.*
  • Link 485  'And now, on his way home, he had avoided every pitfall,
  • Link 486and Eurydice, restored to him and trailing close behind (as Proserpina
  • Editor’s Note Link 487had decreed),* was emerging into heaven's atmosphere
  • Link 488when a stroke of madness caught him, who loved her, off his guard—
  • Link 489a pardonable offence, you'd think, if the Dead knew how to pardon.
  • Link 490He stopped, and for a moment wasn't thinking—no!—
  • Link 491Eurydice was his again and on the brink of light, and who knows what possessed him
  • pg 92 Link 492but he turned back to look. Like that, his efforts were undone, and the pacts he'd entered
  • Link 493with that tyrant had dissolved. Three peals of thunder clapped across that paludal hell.
  • Link 494"What," she cried, "what wretched luck has ruined me—and you, O Orpheus,
  • Link 495what burning need? Look, cold-hearted fate is calling me
  • Link 496again; sleep draws its curtain on my brimming eyes.
  • Link 497And so, farewell, I'm carried off in night's immense embrace,
  • 498and now reach out my hands to you in vain—for I am yours no more."
  • Link 499  'So she spoke, and suddenly, like wisps of smoke, she vanished
  • 500in thin air. She watched him for the final time, while he,
  • Link 501with so much still to say, attempted to cling on to shadows.
  • Link 502No longer would the ferryman permit him cross
  • Editor’s Note503the marshy pool that lay between them.*
  • 504What was left for him to do? Where could he turn, his wife now taken
  • Link 505twice from him? Would any wailing move the shades—or please the gods?
  • 506Already she was making her stiff way across the Styx.
  • 507  'For seven whole long months, they say, one following the other,
  • Link 508he slumped in mourning, alone beneath a towering cliff, by the waterside of Strymon,
  • Link 509expounding under frozen stars his broken-hearted threnody
  • 510to the delight of tigers, and even drew the oak to him with his style of singing,
  • Link 511just as a nightingale will sorrow under poplar shade
  • Link 512for her lost brood which some brute ploughboy spotted
  • 513and pilfered from the nest, though it was not yet fledged.
  • 514That bird still weeps by night and, perched in a tree, repeats
  • Link 515her plaintive keen, filling far and wide with the ache of her heartbreak.
  • Link 516No thought of love, or marriage, could distract him.
  • Link 517Disconsolate, through icefields of the north, the snow-kissed river Tanais,
  • pg 93518and the Riphaean range whose peaks are never free from frost,
  • 519he drifted, lamenting lost Eurydice and Pluto's broken boon.
  • Link 520But the bacchantes thought themselves scorned by such devotion
  • 521and, one night of rites and revelling,
  • Editor’s Note522tore him apart, this youth, and broadcast the pieces through the land.*
  • Link 523Even then, sundered from a neck as pale as marble
  • 524and carried in the current down the Hebrus,
  • Link 525that voice, that stone-cold tongue, continued to cry out,
  • Link 526"Eurydice, O poor Eurydice," as its life's blood drained out of it
  • Link 527and the river banks repeated that "Eurydice", a dolorous refrain.'
  • Editor’s Note528Thus spoke Proteus,* and then he plunged into the sea
  • 529and where he plunged an eddy swirled down in the wave.
  • Link 530But not Cyrene. Unasked, she uttered to her trembling audience:
  • Link 531'My son, cast off the burden of your cares
  • Link 532for here's the reason for the sickness of your bees
  • 533and this is why the nymphs with whom Eurydice danced in the groves
  • Link 534brought rack and ruin to the hives. So you, a supplicant,
  • 535must make an offering, with peace the aim,
  • Link 536and pray, and pay respect in atonement to the gracious nymphs.
  • Link 537And in response they'll grant forgiveness and repeal their rage.
  • 538  'The way to supplicate I will first tell:
  • 539select four bulls, superior in form and frame,
  • 540such as you've grazing now on lush uplands of Lycaeus,
  • 541and an equal count of heifers, whose neck no yoke has ever touched;
  • 542erect for these four altars by the tall temples of the goddesses,
  • 543lance them, and let the sacred blood spill from their throats,
  • 544and leave these carcasses abandoned in a leafy den.
  • 545And later, when nine days have dawned, you'll send as offerings to Orpheus
  • 546soporific poppies, and sacrifice a ewe that's black, pg 94then go back to the thicket and worship with a slaughtered calf
  • 547Eurydice, who by now will be appeased.'
  • Link 548          And with no halt or hesitation
  • Editor’s Note549he did all that his mother bid.* Come to the temple, he raised the altars as prescribed,
  • 550led in four bulls, superior in form and frame,
  • 551and an equal count of heifers, whose neck no yoke has ever touched.
  • 552And later, when nine days have dawned, he sends his offerings
  • 553to Orpheus and goes back to the thicket …
  • Link 554And there they met a miracle and looked it in the face—
  • Link 555from those cattle's decomposing flesh, the hum of bees,
  • Link 556bubbling first, then boiling over and, trailing giant veils into the trees,
  • 557they hung like grapes in bunches from the swaying branches.
  • Editor’s Note558Such was the song* that I took on to sing, about the care of crops
  • Link 559and stock, and trees with fruit, while he, our mighty Caesar,
  • Link 560was going hell for leather along the great Euphrates
  • Link 561adding victory to triumph, winning the war for people who appreciate his deeds,
  • Link 562and laying down the law—enough to earn his place in heaven.
  • Link 563  And I, Virgil, was lying in the lap of Naples, quite at home
  • 564in studies of the arts of peace, I, who once amused myself
  • 565with rustic rhymes, and, still a callow youth,
  • Link 566sang of you, Tityrus, as I lounged beneath the reach of one great beech.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 heaven's gift of honey: Virgil plunges directly into his theme, stressing both the supernatural aspect of honey, and the resemblance of the hive to a human society, aspects of the bees' nature which he will reiterate through the book (see lines 153–5, 164 ff., and 200–5, for example). He will use epic language and allusions, not to mock the bees, but to stress their delicate vulnerability
Editor’s Note
15 Procne, her breast still bearing stains: the Athenian princess Procne was married to Tereus, king of Thrace, who raped her sister Philomela. In fury, the women murdered Procne's son Itys and fed the child's flesh to his father. When Tereus discovered the crime all three were transformed, he to a hoopoe, Philomela to the nightingale, and Procne to the swallow, which has blood-red breast feathers.
Editor’s Note
55 enraptured by such strange delight: while Virgil stresses the sensitivity of the bees to smell and sound, and their indifference to sexual desire, he credits them with a mysterious emotional life; cf. lines 70 and 149 ff.
Editor’s Note
68 two queens: modern apiarists know that the hive is ruled by a female, but Virgil like most ancients, thought the leader was male and speaks of choosing between two kings or male leaders. The recommendation to kill one 'king' when two are competing (lines 88–91) is found in Varro 3.16.18, but may be a pointed allusion to Antony as rival of Octavian; Varro also identifies the 'dusty' bees as less healthy (3.16.20).
Editor’s Note
109–10 Let there be gardens … Priapus of Hellespont: Italy had imported the cult of the ultra-virile Priapus from Lampsacus on the Hellespont and put home-made wooden herms of the god with his large organ in vegetable gardens to scare away birds and human thieves. Virgil will use the bees' need for flowers as an excuse for his digression (lines 125 ff.) describing the old immigrant gardener's allotment by the river Galaesus in sunny Tarentum.
Editor’s Note
149–52 the qualities bestowed on bees by Jupiter … that Cretan cave: when Rhea smuggled the newborn Jupiter to the care of the nymphs in a cave on Mt. Ida in Crete, to hide the baby's cries the Curetes (Rhea's attendants) clashed their cymbals as they danced and the bees, attracted by the noise (cf. line 64 above), fed him with honey.
Editor’s Note
170–3 when the Cyclopes … Etna groaned beneath the weight of anvils: the bees' unanimous and unresting devotion to their delicate task is compared by opposites to the diligence of the giant Cyclopes, primitive subhuman creatures like the Nibelungen, who were believed to forge Jupiter's thunderbolts under Mt. Etna in Sicily or the Aeolian islands, because the volcanic smoke suggested the chimney of a forge.
Editor’s Note
210–11 Egypt … or the Medes: these nations were seen as willing slaves of their monarchies present or past.
Editor’s Note
232 Taÿgete of the Seven Sisters: the rising of the Pleiades in May.
Editor’s Note
234 trying to escape from Pisces: the setting of the Pleiades in November, although Pisces will only rise later.
Editor’s Note
246 a spider, Minerva's fateful enemy: the Lydian weaver Arachne, whom Minerva turned into a spider out of jealousy at her superior tapestry work.
Editor’s Note
271 a flower farmers call 'amellus': as with the asilus, Virgil gives detailed attention to the powers of this aster-like flower, its name derived from the river Mella in northern Italy.
Editor’s Note
283–4 what that great Arcadian keeper/first discovered: this is Aristaeus, last mentioned (but not named) at 1.14–15 as the patron of woods and keeper of cattle on Ceos. His connection with Arcadia is unknown, but the word translated 'keeper' here not only means master of a herd, but carries the notion of teacher or inventor. Although the character we meet in the narrative seems an immature figure, he emerges as a model of success despite adversity, and success won through piety and dogged attention to instructions—thus the prototype of the good farmer (and good pupil). He will not be named until after the account of Egyptian bougonia, at line 317, when we shall meet him in Thessaly. (See Introduction, pp. xxx–xxxi.)
Editor’s Note
287 Pellaean people … beside Canopus on the Nile: the ruling people of Egypt were Macedonians (so from Pella), and Canopus just one of the Nile's seven mouths, but the Egyptians are described here as neighbours of the Parthians (called 'archers', line 290, and recalled in the comparison of line 312) and associated with the river itself which comes from the equatorial south—hence 'sun-bronzed Ethiopians' (line 292), in which the adjective translates the Greek name Aithiopes ('burnt faces') which was loosely applied to all the known peoples of East Africa. The Romans of this generation knew Egypt from images of the course of the Nile, filled with boats and crocodiles and flanked by villages and temples such as we see on the Nile Mosaic of Palestrina.
Editor’s Note
317 Tempe, through which the Peneius flows: this is the fertile valley of Thessaly, but in lines 363–73, by a kind of magic geography, Virgil makes Cyrene's underwater home the centre of a network of caverns which provide the source of rivers worldwide—from Colchis (the Phasis) and Asia Minor, the Thessalian Enipeus, Roman Tiber and Anio, the Black Sea Hypanis and Caicus (this Mysian river flows into the Aegean through western Turkey), and finally the mysterious Eridanus, sometimes equated with the Po (as it may be here given the reference to 'rich farmlands', line 373), sometimes with other rivers of the west.
Editor’s Note
320 directed his complaint to the one who bore him: Aristaeus may seem childish in this self-pitying lament, but his complaint (lines 321–32) is modelled on that of a hero, Achilles' complaint to his mother in Iliad 1.348–56. Aristaeus is a doubly Homeric figure, taking on the guile and endurance of Menelaus in the second part of his adventure. Virgil has used his protest to recapitulate all the varieties of farming discussed in Books 1–3 (line 327: 'expert care of crops and cattle', lines 329–31: 'fruiting forests … stalls … harvest … vines').
Editor’s Note
333 Deep in the river …: like the respectable mistress of a Roman house, Aristaeus' mother, the nymph Cyrene, is surrounded by her attendants, preparing the best wool from Miletus (dyed sea-coloured because they are water-nymphs). Their names, chosen for their melodious and foreign sounds, are free invention, though two nymphs are called 'daughters of Oceanus', and one is Arethusa, the nymph of the freshwater spring at Syracuse in Sicily.
Editor’s Note
345–6 Clymene, rambling on … and the joy he stole: Clymene is telling what may be the oldest tale of adultery (cf. Demodocus' version in Odyssey 8): how the sun told Vulcan that his wife Venus was sleeping with Mars and he trapped them in a superfine magic net, but they were unashamed.
Editor’s Note
347 all the loves of all the gods, from Chaos' time to ours: a neat recall of Hesiod's genealogies in Theogony.
Editor’s Note
381 to Oceanus: Ocean seems to be worshipped here chiefly as father of the nymphs of woodland and sea whom, as we shall learn at lines 533–4, Aristaeus has offended.
Editor’s Note
387 Proteus: the Old Man of the Sea, Proteus, is gifted with prophecy in Odyssey 4.387 ff., but also with the power to change his shape so as to elude capture. Virgil has adapted Aristaeus' adventure from that of Menelaus in Egypt, where Menelaus too is instructed by a nymph, Eidothea. But he has changed location, setting Proteus first in the island of Carpathos, then in Pallene. This is probably an Alexandrian variation since Proteus is also associated with Pallene in a fragment of Callimachus.
Editor’s Note
392 even agèd Nereus: Nereus the sea-god was father of Thetis, and it was Proteus who warned Zeus that he should not mate with Thetis because her son was fated to be mightier than his father. As a result Thetis married the mortal Peleus and became the mother of Achilles.
Editor’s Note
425–7 The Dog Star … half his daily course: the Dog Star indicates the time of year—high summer—and the sun the time of day—high noon.
Editor’s Note
433 like that herdsman in the mountains: the simile comparing Proteus and his smelly herd of seals to a hill shepherd watching his calves and lambs ties this narrative back to the second part of Book 3.
Editor’s Note
454 Orpheus: this is the first mention of Orpheus or Aristaeus' sexual pursuit of Orpheus' bride, Eurydice, which caused her death by the bite of a water-snake (another link with Book 3). Proteus' tale of Orpheus will extend from here to 527.
Editor’s Note
460 her peers, the Dryads: Eurydice too was a nymph, and so is lamented by the nymphs of Thrace; Cyrene will confirm to her son in lines 534–6 that he must appease them with sacrifice. Rhodope (line 461) is a Thracian mountain range, Rhesus (line 462) the Thracian king who was treacherously killed by Odysseus and Diomedes (Iliad 10) when he came to defend Troy. The Getae (line 463) were a tribe contemporary with Virgil, the Hebrus (cf. line 524) the Thracian river which would carry away Orpheus' severed head, and Orithyia, princess of Athens and sister of Procne and Philomela, was abducted by the north wind to the same cold northern regions.
Editor’s Note
464–5 his lyre / a hollowed tortoiseshell: the Homeric hymn to Hermes tells how Hermes invented the lyre by scooping a tortoise from its shell to make the soundbox of his instrument.
Editor’s Note
467 the gorge of Taenarus: Taenarus, in the region of Sparta, like Avernus in Campania, was believed to be an entrance to Hades.
Editor’s Note
469–84 to approach the shades … settled to a standstill: in sixteen lines Virgil includes all the elements of the underworld, taken from Odyssey 11 and later sources, which he would develop in the sixth book of the Aeneid. He does not even mention that the lord of Hades grants Orpheus' appeal, but describes the souls of the innocent dead enclosed by the rivers Cocytus and Styx, and Tartarus guarded by Cerberus where the sinners (only Ixion is named: cf. note to 3.38–9) are punished by the Furies.
Editor’s Note
486–7 Eurydice … trailing close behind (as Proserpina/had decreed): only now, and with a painful slowness, does Virgil reveal both the consent and the terms decreed by Proserpina (cf. 1.39) as queen of Hades. This is all the more agonizing as Virgil was the first to claim that Orpheus failed in his quest and lost Eurydice for ever. In Virgil Eurydice speaks now for the first and last time: Orpheus, 'with so much still to say' (line 501), cannot speak, but even after his death his head will repeat her name which will be taken up by the river banks (line 527), as they earlier (line 463) wept at her original death.
Editor’s Note
502–3 No longer would the ferryman permit him cross … that lay between them: as Virgil shows in his depiction of Hades at Aeneid 6.326–30, Charon only ferried the properly buried dead across Cocytus and the Styx: it was forbidden for him to convey the living (Aeneid 6.391). Virgil does not explain how Orpheus had been able to cross into Hades earlier, but Hercules and Theseus had succeeded.
Editor’s Note
507–22 For seven whole long months … through the land: Orpheus is now back in Thrace, by the river Strymon, and (line 517) as far north as the river Tanais (the Don, on the north coast of the Black Sea). It is in Thrace that the women in Bacchic frenzy are angered by his lament and tear him apart.
Editor’s Note
528 Thus spoke Proteus: Proteus has told Aristaeus only the cause of his loss; but Cyrene, apparently standing near, moves from past to future, instructing him in the sacrifices he must make.
Editor’s Note
549 he did all that his mother bid: Cyrene too only tells him half of what she knows. When Aristaeus has carried out all the sacrifices and waited patiently, the miracle (line 554) comes as a surprise to him, though Virgil's readers will have been guided to expect something of this kind by the slightly different Egyptian procedure of lines 295–314. With the new swarm of bees the narrative ends; there is no return to Virgil's own apiculture.
Editor’s Note
558 Such was the song: this personal sphragis, or 'signing off', contrasts Octavian's military glory at the edges of empire with Virgil himself, his name, the sheltered place of his 'studies of the arts of peace' (line 564) and his works to date. The last line ('you, Tityrus'), echoes the first line of Virgil's first Eclogue, but puts the poet himself under the spreading beech tree.
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