From Virgil's Works, The Aeneid, Eclogues, Georgics translated by J. W. Mackail, Introduction by Charles L. Durham, Ph.D., New York: the Modern Library; 1934; pp. 338-353.
[1-34]NEXT will I advance to heaven-born honey, the gift of air, (let this likewise, Maecenas, share thy regard,) and tell thee of the wondrous show of a tiny state, of high-hearted princes, and a whole nations’ ordered works and ways, tribes and battles. Slight is the field of labour; but not slight the glory, if but thwarting deities allow, and Apollo listen to the prayer.
First of all a home must be sought for bees, and a post where neither winds may have entry — for winds hinder them carrying their forage home — nor sheep and butting kids tread down the flowers, or the straying heifer brush the dew from the meadow and trample the springing grass. Likewise let the bright scale-backed lizard be far from their rich folds, and the birds that come with the bee-eater, and the swallow, her breast marked with those blood-stained hands: for they spread universal havoc, and carry off the bees on the wing, dainty morsels for their fierce nestlings. But let clear springs be nigh, and ponds green with moss, and a thread of rill fleeting through the grass; and let a palm or tall wild-olive overshadow the entrance, that when the new kings* shall lead forth their earliest swarms in the sweet springtime, and the young brood disport unprisoned from the comb, the bordering bank may woo them to cool retreat, and the tree meet and stay them in her leafy shelter. Amid the water, whether it stagnate or run, cast large stones and willow-boughs crosswise, that they may have many a bridge to stand on and spread their wings to the summer sun if haply a shower overtake them or a gust of wind plunge them in the watery realm. All round green casia and far-fragrant wild thyme and wealth of heavy-scented savory should bloom, and violet beds drink the channelled spring. Let thy hives moreover, whether they be stitched of hollow bark or woven from pliant osier, have 339[35-73] narrow doorways; for the honey freezes in winter cold, and again melts and wastes in the heat. Extreme of either the bees dread alike; nor in vain do they eagerly plaster with wax the draughty chinks in the roof and stop up the rims with pollen of flowers, and for this very service gather and store their gum, stickier than bird-lime or pitch from Phrygian Ida. Often likewise, if the tale is true, they keep house in recesses scooped out underground, or are found deep in hollow sandstone or the cavern of a mouldering tree. Yet do thou smear smooth clay warmly round about their creviced chambers, and spread on the top a thin coat of leaves. Neither suffer the yew too near their house, neither burn crab-shells to redness in the fire, neither trust them where a marsh is deep or by a strong smell of mire, or where encircling rocks echo to a stroke and fling back the phantom of a call.
For the rest, when the golden sun has driven winter routed underground and flung wide the sky in summer light, forthwith they range over lawn and wood, and harvest the shining blossoms and sip lightly of the streams; then glad with some strange delight, they nurture their brood in the nest, then deftly forge the fresh wax and mould the clammy honey. Then, as looking up thou seest their armies swarming skyward from their hives and floating through the clear summer air, and wonderest at their dim cloud trailing in the wind, mark! ever they steer for sweet water and leafy shelter. Here sprinkle the odours ordained, crushed balm and lowly tufts of honeywort, and make a tinkling round about and clash the cymbals of our Lady; themselves will settle on the scented seat, themselves in their wonted way creep into the inmost covert of their nest.
But further, if they are gone forth to battle — for often high swelling discord rises between two kings, and at once and afar thou mayest foreknow the raging of the multitude and the hearts beating fast for war; for a note as of the hoarse brass of our Mars chides the lingerers and a cry is heard that mimics broken trumpet-blasts: — then they muster hurriedly together with vibrating wings, and whet their stings on their beaks and 340[74-112] brace their arms, and crowd in mingled mass round their king and close up to the royal tent, and with loud cries challenge the enemy. So when they find the spring sky rainless and their field open, they sally from the gates; high in air the armies clash and the din swells; gathering they cluster in a great ball and come tumbling down, thick as hailstones through the air or the rain of acorns from the shaken ilex. The monarchs move splendid-winged amid the ranks, and mighty passions stir in their tiny breasts, stubborn to the last not to retreat, till weight of the conqueror forces these or those to turn backward in flying rout. These stormy passions and these mighty conflicts will be lulled to rest by a handful of scattered dust.
But when thou hast recalled both leaders from the battlefield, do to death him who seems inferior, that he be not a waste and harm; let the better reign in a clear court. One will be ablaze with spots of embossed gold; for there are two kinds, this the better, fair of feature and splendid in flashing scales; the other, rough-coated and sluggish, crawls meanly with his breadth of belly. As the two kings in aspect so are their subjects shapen; for some are rough and dirty, even as a traveller when he issues from deep dust and spits from his mouth the gritty soil, all athirst; others shine and sparkle in splendour, and their bodies blaze with evenly marked drops of gold. These are the choicer breeds; from their combs at the ordained season of the skies thou shalt squeeze sweet honey, and yet less sweet than crystal-clear, to soften the harsh taste of wine.
But when the swarms fly aimlessly at play in the sky, and despise their combs and leave their house to grow cold, thou shalt stop their light-minded and idle game. Nor is it much work to stop; tear off the wings of the kings; while they linger, not a bee will dare to set out on their aëry way or move standard from the camp. Let garden plots woo them with fragrance of their yellow flowers, and the watchman of thieves and birds, Hellespontic Priapus, keep them in guard with his hook of willow. Himself should the keeper of such 341[113-149] plant about their houses broad belts of thyme and laurels brought from the hill heights; himself wear his hand hard with work, himself bed the soil with fruitful shoots and water them with kindly showers.
And truly, but that already nearing my task’s final limit I furl my sails and hasten to turn my prow to land, perchance I might also sing of the care and keeping that deck the rich garden mould, and of the Paestan rosebeds with their double blossoming, and how the endive rejoices in drinking the rill and the banks are green with parsley, and how the curved gourd swells bellying along the grass, nor had kept silence of the late-flowering narcissus or the shoot of the curled acanthus and pale ivy-sprays and the myrtles that love the shore. For I remember how beneath the towered fortress of Oebalia, where dark Galaesus moistens his golden cornfields, I saw an old man of Corycus, who owned some few acres of waste land, a field neither rich for grazing nor favourable to the flock nor apt for the vineyard; yet he, setting thinly sown garden-stuff among the brushwood, with borders of white lilies and vervain and the seeded poppy, equalled in his content the wealth of kings; and returning home when night was late, would heap his table with unbought dainties. The first roses of spring, the first apples of autumn he would gather; and when even yet the frost of bitter winter cleft the rocks and laid an icy curb on the running waters, already he plucked the soft-tressed hyacinth, chiding the late-lingering summer and the west wind’s delay. So likewise was he the first for whom the bees’ brood overflowed in swarming multitudes, and the frothing honey drained from the squeezed combs; lime trees were his, and wealth of pine; and as many apples as had arrayed his orchard-tree in the fresh blossom, so many it carried ripe at autumn. He too transplanted into rows full-grown elms and the hard-wood pear, and the blackthorn with sloes already upon it, and the plane already yielding shade to the drinker. But this for my part, debarred by jealous limits, I pass by and leave to be told by others after me.
Now come, I will set forth the gifts wherewith Jove himself 342[150-188] has dowered bees at birth, their wages when, following the musical cries and tinkling brasses of the Curetes, they fed the king of heaven in that low cave of Crete. Alone they have community of children and shelter of a confederate city, and spend their life under majesty of law; alone they know a native country and established gods of the household, and mindful of winter’s coming, they ply their summer task and lay up their gatherings in a common store. For some are diligent to provide food, and labour in the fields by ordinance of the league; others within their fortified houses lay the combs’ first foundations with tear of narcissus and sticky resin of bark, and hang thereon the clinging waxen walls: some guide forth the grown brood, their nation’s hope; others press down the pure virgin honey and brim the cells with liquid sweets. To certain of them falls the lot of guard at the gates, and in turn they keep watch on showers and cloudy skies, or take the loads of the incomers, or in ranked array keep the drones, that idle gang, aloof from the folds: the work is all aswarm, and fragrance breathes from the thyme-scented honey. And even as when the Cyclopean forgers of the thunder hurry on the ductile ore, some make the wind come and go in bellows of bull-hide, some dip the hissing brass in the trough; Etna groans under their anvils’ pressure, as alternating they lift their arms mightily in time, and turn the iron about in the grip of their tongs: even so, if small things may be compared with great, are our Attic bees urged on each in her proper duty by inborn love of possession. The aged have the town in charge, and the walling of the combs and the shaping of the curious chambers; but the younger return weary when night grows late, their thighs laden with thyme, and pasture all abroad on arbutus and grey willow, on casia and the crimsoned crocus, and the rich lime-blossom and the rust-red hyacinth. For all is one rest from toil, work-time for all is one. With morning they stream out of their gates; nowhere a lingerer; alike again, when evening warns them at last to quit their meadow pasture, then they seek their home, then they refresh their bodies; murmuring, they hum 343[189-224] around the edges of the doorway. Thereafter, when now they are quiet in their cells, silence deepens with night, and kindly slumber overspreads their tired limbs. Nor indeed when rain threatens do they withdraw very far from their folds, or trust the sky when east winds are on their way; but fetch water in shelter close round their city walls, and essay short sallies, and often lift pebbles, as boats take in ballast when they rock in the tossing surge, and poise themselves so among the bodiless clouds.
This custom approved of bees may truly waken thy wonder, that they neither delight in bodily union, nor melt away in languor of love, or bear their young by birth-throes; but straight from the leaves, from the scented herbage gather their children in their mouths, themselves, keep up the succession of king and tiny citizens, and fashion anew their halls and waxen realm. Often moreover in wandering they crush their wings against flinty rocks and freely yield their life beneath the burden; such is their love of flowers and their pride in honey-making. Therefore although their own life be brief and soon taken to its rest — since to the seventh summer it lasts and no further — yet the race abides immortal, and through many years the Fortune of their house stands, and their ancestors are counted to the third and fourth generation.
Furthermore not Egypt and mighty Lydia, not the Parthian peoples or the Mede by Hydaspes so adore their king. Their king safe, all are of one mind; he lost, they break allegiance, plunder the honey-cells themselves have built, and break open the plaited combs. He is guardian of their labours; him they regard, and all gather round in murmuring throng and encompass him in their swarms; and often lift him on their shoulders and shield him in war with their bodies, and seek through wounds a glorious death.
Noting this and led by these instances, certain have claimed for bees a share of some divine intelligence and a draught of the springs of heaven. For God, they say, extends through all lands and spaces of sea and depths of sky; from him flocks and herds and men and all the race of wild creatures, each at 344[225-260] birth, draw the slender stream of life; to him thereafter all things as surely return, and are dissolved into him again; nor is there place for death; but living they flit to their starry mansions and rise to a heaven above.
If ever thou wilt unseal their imperial dwellings and the stored honey in their treasuries, first sprinkle thyself and wash thy mouth with a draught of water and hold forth searching smoke in thine hand. Twice men gather the heavy foison in two seasons of harvest: so soon as Taygete the Pleiad shows forth her august face upon the world, and spurns with her foot the recoiling ocean streams; or again when retreating before the star of the rainy Fish she sinks from a glooming sky into the wintry waves. They are furious beyond measure, and when attacked breathe venom in their bite and fastening on the veins leave their buried stings behind and lay down their lives in the wound. But if dreading a hard winter thou wilt spare future provision and compassionate their broken spirit and shattered estate, yet to fumigate with thyme and cut away the empty cells who could hesitate? for often unnoticed the eft nibbles at the combs, and beetles build their nests and hide out of the light, and the drone, sitting idle at another’s board, or the fierce hornet joins battle with overpowering arms, or moths, an ill-omened tribe, or the spider hated of Minerva spreads her loose web in the doorway. The lower they are brought, the more eagerly will all press on to repair the ruin of their fallen race, and will fill their galleries and build their woven granaries of blossoms.
If indeed, since to bees also life brings such mischances as ours, they droop under sore bodily ailment; — and this thou wilt readily know by no uncertain signs: straightway their colour changes in sickness; they lose their looks and grow thin and haggard, and carry out of doors the bodies of their dead and lead the gloomy funeral train; and either hang clutching by their feet at the doorway, or shut their house and idle within, spiritless with hunger and benumbed by a cramping chill. Then a deeper hum is heard, and they murmur 345[261-301] in long-drawn tone, like the cold south wind sighing in the forest, like the hissing waves of a restless ebbing sea, like the fierce fire roaring behind the furnace doors. Hereat I will counsel thee to burn scented gum and drip honey in through pipes of reed, calling with uninvited urgence the tired creatures to their familiar food. It will be well to mingle withal juice of pounded galls, and dry rose leaves, or wine boiled thick over a strong fire, or raisin-clusters from the Psithian vine, and Attic thyme and strong-smelling centaury. Likewise there is a meadow-flower named amellus by husbandmen, a plant easily found by the seeker, for it lifts from a single stalk a dense growth of shoots; golden the flower, but the petals that cluster thickly round it are dark violet shot with crimson; often the gods’ altars are decked with its woven wreaths; it tastes bitter in the mouth; shepherds gather it in the cropped valley grass and beside the winding streams of Mella. Boil the roots of this in fragrant wine and set it in basketfuls for food by the doorway.
But for one whom the whole breed shall fail of a sudden, and he have nothing left to renew the race in a fresh family, it is time to unfold further the famed invention of the Arcadian keeper, and in what wise often ere now bees have been born from the putrefying blood of a slain bullock. More fully will I discover all the tale and trace it from its earliest source. For where the favoured race of Macedonian Canopus dwells by the still broad overflow of Nile and ride round their own farms in painted boats, and where the quivered Persian land presses nigh and the rushing river that pours straight down from the swarthy Indian parts into seven separate mouths and enriches green Egypt with its dark sand, all the realm builds on this art a certain remedy. First a small room is chosen, straitened down just to serve for this; they confine it by a narrow tiled roof and cramped walls, and towards the four winds add four windows with slanting lights. Then is sought a calf of two years old with horns already curving from his forehead; his double nostrils and breathing mouth are stopped up, spite of all his struggling, and he is beaten to 346[302-341] death and the flesh pounded to pulp through the unbroken skin. Thus they leave him shut close, laying under his sides broken boughs and thyme, and fresh sprays of casia. This is done when west winds first ruffle the waters, ere yet the meadows flush with fresh colours, ere yet the chattering swallow hang her nest from the rafters. Meanwhile the humours heat and ferment in the soft bones, and creatures wonderfully fashioned may be seen, at first limbless, but soon they stir with rustling wings, and more and more drink in the delicate air: until like a shower bursting from summer clouds they swarm forth, or like arrows from the quivering bowstring when light Parthian skirmishers advance to battle.
Who, O Muses, who wrought for us this miraculous art? Whence did this strange experience enter the paths of men?
The shepherd Aristaeus fled from Peneian Tempe, his bees lost, they say, by sickness and scarcity, and stood sad by the holy spring of the river-head, and with many a complaint called thus upon her who bore him. Mother, Cyrene mother, who dwellest here deep beneath the flood, why hast thou borne me in the gods’ illustrious line — if indeed my father is he whom thou sayest, Apollo of Thymbra — to be the scorn of doom? or whither is thy love for me swept away? why didst thou bid me aspire to heaven? Lo, even this mere pride of my mortal life, so hardly wrought out by infinite endeavour in skilful tendance of harvest and flock, this, and thou art my mother, I see depart. Nay come, and with thine own hand uproot my fruitful orchard, carry destroying fire into the folds and kill the harvests, wither the cornfields and wield the strong axe upon the vines, if thou art grown so weary of my praise.
But from her chamber in the river depth the mother heard his cry. Around her the Nymphs carded Milesian fleeces stained with rich sea-dyes, Drymo and Xantho, Ligea and Phyllodoce, their bright tresses falling loose over their snowy necks; and Cydippe and golden-haired Lycorias, the one a maiden, the other even then knowing the first throes of travail; and Clio and Beroë her sister, both daughters of Ocean, both 347[342-382] decked with gold, both girt with dappled skins; and Ephyre and Opis and Asian Deïopea, and fleet Arethusa, her arrows at last laid by. And among them Clymene was telling of Vulcan’s fruitless care, and the wiles of Mars and the stolen sweetness, and recounting from Chaos downward the myriad loves of the gods. And while amid the witchery of her song the soft spun wool curls off their distaffs, again Aristaeus’ lament thrilled his mother’s ears, and all were motionless on their crystal chairs; but before the rest of the sisterhood Arethusa glanced forth, lifting her golden head above the wave, and cried from afar: O not vainly startled by so heavy a moan, Cyrene sister, he thine own, thy chiefest care, mourning Aristaeus stands in tears by Peneus’ ancestral wave, and calls thee cruel and names thy name. To her the mother, stricken in soul with fresh alarm, Lead him, quick, lead him to us; he, she cries, may unforbidden tread the threshold of gods. With that she bids the deep streams retire, leaving a broad path for his steps to enter in. But round him the mountain-wave stood curving and clasped him in its mighty fold, and sped him beneath the river. And now marvelling at his mother’s home and watery realm, cavern-locked pools and roaring forests, he passed on, and, stunned by the vast whirl of waters, gazed on all the great floods of distant regions rolling under earth, Phasis and Lycus, and the spring head whence breaks forth high Enipeus’ source, whence the lord of Tiber and whence the streams of Anio, and Hypanis roaring over his rocks, and Mysian Caïcus and, with the twin gilded horns on his bull’s forehead, Eridanus, than whom no other river flows fiercer out through his rich tilth into the shining sea. After they entered the chamber with its hanging roof of rock, and Cyrene heard her son’s idle tale of tears, her sisters duly pour clear spring-water on his hands and bring towels with close-cut fleece: others pile the banquet on the board and array the brimming cups; flame of Panchaean spice swells from the altars, and his mother cries, Take up a flagon of Maeonian wine; let us pour libation to Oceanus. Herself therewithal offers prayer to Oceanus father of all things and to the 348[383-419] Nymphs’ sisterhood who have an hundred forests, an hundred floods in their keeping: thrice she pours clear nectar over the blazing altar-fire, thrice the flame flared up anew to the crown of the roof. And strengthening his courage by this omen, she thus begins:
In the Carpathian sea-gulf dwells a soothsayer, blue Proteus, whose chariot yoked with fishes and twy-footed coursers spans the mighty ocean plain. He now visits again Emathia’s borders and his birthplace of Pallene; to him we Nymphs do worship, and aged Nereus our lord; for he has the seer’s knowledge of all things that are or that have been or that draw nigh to their coming: this by grace of Neptune, whose monstrous flocks and ugly seals he herds under the gulf. Him, my son, must thou first enfetter, that he may fully unfold the source of the sickness, and give prosperous issue. For without force he will give counsel in nowise, nor wilt thou bend him by entreaties; with sheer force and fetters must thou tie thy prisoner; around them his wiles at last will break unavailing. Myself will lead thee, when the sun has kindled the heat of noon, when the grass is athirst and the shade now grows more grateful to the flock, to the old man’s covert, his retreat from the weary waves, that while he lies asleep thou mayest lightly assail him. But when thou shalt hold him caught and fettered in thine hands, even then the form and visage of manifold wild beasts shall cheat thee; for in a moment he will turn to a bristly boar or a black tiger, a scaly serpent and tawny-necked lioness, or will roar shrill in flame and so slip out of the fetters, or will melt into thin water and be gone. But the more he changes into endless shapes, the more do thou, my son, strain tight the grasp of his fetters, until his body change again into the likeness thou sawest when his eyes drooped and his sleep began.
So says she and sprinkles abroad liquid scent of ambrosia, anointing with it all the body of her son: but his ranged curls breathed a sweet fragrance, and supple strength grew in his limbs. There is a vast cave in the hollowed mountain side, where countless waves are driven before the gale and break 349[420-459] among the deep recesses: of old a sure anchorage for mariners caught by storm: within it Proteus takes shelter behind the barrier of a mighty rock. Here the Nymph places her son in hiding away from the light, and herself stands apart dim in a mist. Now fierce Sirius blazed from the sky, scorching the thirsty Indian, and the fiery sun had swept to his mid arch: the grass was parched, and in hollow river-beds, dry-mouthed, the heated mud baked in his rays; when Proteus advanced from the waves to seek his familiar cavern; around him the wet tribes of the mighty deep gambolling splashed wide the briny spray. His seals stretch themselves asleep here and there along the shore; he, as some guardian of a hill-fold when evening leads the calves homeward from pasture and the wolves rouse as they hear the bleating of the lambs, takes his seat on a rock among them and tells their tale. And upon him Aristaeus, as his chance offers, hardly allowing the ancient to settle his weary limbs, darts with a loud cry and slips the shackles over him as he lies. He in return, not unmindful of his cunning, transforms himself into things manifold and marvellous, fire and dreadful wild beast and flowing river. But when none of his magic finds him escape, he returns foiled into his own shape and at length speaks with human visage: Ah, who bade thee, most venturous youth, draw nigh our home? or what wouldst thou? he cries. But he: Thou knowest, O Proteus, thyself knowest: nor canst thou at all delude me. But cease to struggle. Following divine commands we are come, to seek here oracular counsel for a worn estate. So far he spoke: thereat the soothsayer at last violently rolled the glassy orbs of his flaming eyes, and gnashing his teeth heavily thus gave voice to fate:
Not save by wrath of deity art thou plagued: great is the crime thou dost expiate. This punishment less than deserved, wretched Orpheus calls forth upon thee — unless Fate oppose — in mad grief for his wife torn away. She indeed, flying headlong before thee through the river, saw not her death upon her in the deep grass before her girlish feet, where that monstrous snake guarded the bank. But the band of her 350[460-499] Dryad playmates filled the mountain summits with their cries: Rhodopeïan fortresses wept, and Pangaean heights and Rhesus’ martial land, Getae and Hebrus, and Actian Orithyia. He, soothing his love-sickness on his hollow shell, sang of thee, O sweet wife, of thee alone on the solitary shore, of thee at dayspring, of thee at the death of the day. Even that gorge of Taenarus, the high gateway of Dis, and the grove that glooms in horror of darkness he entered, and drew nigh the ghostly people and their awful king, and the hearts that know not to melt at human supplications. But startled by his song from the deep sunken realm of Erebus thin shadows rose and phantoms of the lost to light, millionfold as birds shelter in the leaves when evenfall or wintry rain drives them from the hill; matrons and men and bodies of high-hearted heroes whose life was done, boys and unwedded girls and young men laid on the pyre before their parents’ eyes: whom all round the black slime and ugly reeds of Cocytus and the sluggish wave of the unlovely pool enfetter, and Styx severs with the barrier of her ninefold flood. Nay, the very halls of death and Hell’s recesses were amazed, and the Furies with livid serpents twined in their tresses; Cerberus held his triple jaws agape, and Ixion’s whirling wheel hung motionless on the wind. And now his returning feet had outsped every peril, and his regained Eurydice was issuing to upper air, following at his back — for thus had Proserpine ordained — when a sudden madness seized the unwary lover, surely to be forgiven, if Death knew forgiveness. He stopped; his own Eurydice was just on the edge of daylight; forgetful, alas! and impassioned he looked round on her. There all his toil was spilt and the treaty broken with that merciless monarch; and thrice a thunder pealed over the pools of Avernus. Who, woe’s me! she cries, hath destroyed me, and thee with me, Orpheus? what frenzy is this? Lo, again the cruel fates call me backward, and sleep hides my swimming eyes. And now goodbye: I pass away wrapped in a great darkness, and helplessly stretching towards thee the hands that, alas! are not thine. She spoke and suddenly out of his eyes, like vapour melting 351[500-539] in the thin air, fled into the distance, neither saw him more as he vainly grasped at the shadows and fain would say many a word; nor did the gatekeeper of Orcus suffer him again to cross that barring pool. What could he do? or whither turn now his wife was twice torn away? how stir Death with weeping, what deities with his cry? and she even now floated cold in the Stygian bark. Seven whole months unbroken they say he wept alone beneath an aëry rock by Strymon’s solitary wave, and poured forth all his tale under the freezing stars, soothing tigresses and moving oaks with song; even as the nightingale mourning under the poplar shade moans her lost brood whom the cruel ploughman has marked and torn unfledged from the nest: but she weeps nightlong, and seated on the bough renews her pitiable song and fills the region round with her mournful complaint. Never did love nor ever a bridal stir his spirit: alone he ranged Hyperborean icefields and snowy Tanaïs and Rhipaean plains that never unloose their frosts, murmuring over his lost Eurydice and the vain gifts of Dis: till slighted by such tribute, Ciconian matrons, amid divine sacrifice and Bacchic revels by night, rent him asunder and scattered him wide over the land. Even then, when torn from the marble neck his head went rolling down the mid-eddies of Oeagrian Hebrus, the very voice and chill tongue cried Eurydice! ah poor Eurydice! as their life ebbed away: Eurydice! the banks re-echoed all down the stream.
Thus Proteus, and sprang with a bound into the sea depths, and where he sprang the wave spun eddying in foam. But not so Cyrene: for she accosted him in words of cheer.
O my son, thou mayest dismiss the care that saddens thy soul. This is all the source of the sickness; this why the Nymphs with whom she wheeled the dance in depth of groves have dealt destruction on thy poor bees. Do thou humbly seek their favour with gifts outstretched, and worship the gracious maidens of the lawn: for to thy prayers they will yield pardon and relent from wrath. But first I will tell thee duly what is the way of supplication. Choose out four noble bulls of stately girth that now graze the heights of green 352[540-566] Lycaeus, and as many heifers whose neck no yoke has touched; for these rear four altars by the lofty shrines of the goddesses and let the devoted blood trickle from their throats, and leave the bodies of the oxen alone in the leafy copse. Thereafter, when the ninth dawn brightens to her birth, thou shalt send Lethean poppies for funeral gifts to Orpheus, and adore appeased Eurydice with a slain heifer-calf, and sacrifice a black ewe and again seek the grove.
Delaying not, forthwith he fulfils his mother’s counsels. He comes to the shrines; he bids the ordained altars rise; four noble bulls of stately girth he leads up, and as many heifers whose neck knows not the yoke; thereafter, when the ninth dawn had risen to her birth, he sends funeral gifts to Orpheus and again seeks the grove. Here indeed they descry a portent sudden and strange to tell; bees humming among the dissolving flesh of the carcases and swarming forth from the rent sides of the oxen, and trailing in endless clouds, till now they stream together on the tree-top and hang clustering from the pliant boughs.
This I sang of the tending of fields and flocks and trees, while great Caesar hurled war’s lightnings by high Euphrates and gave statues among the nations in welcome supremacy, and scaled the path to heaven. Even in that season I Virgil, nurtured in sweet Parthenope, went in the flowery ways of lowly Quiet: I who once played with shepherd’s songs, and in youth’s hardihood sang thee, O Tityrus, under the covert of spreading beech.
* The classical Greeks and the Romans believed the sex of the hive leader to be male. The Ephesians, from Asia Minor, knew she was a queen bee. See Chapter VII, “Wolf-Priests, Goat-Priests, Ox-Priests, Bee-Priests,” by Sir William M. Ramsay, Asianic Elements in Greek Civilisation, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1928; pp. 82-83. — Elf.Ed.