P EOPLE used to think the queen-bee was a king, and ruled over all the bees in the hive.
They thought a hive of bees was a little kingdom, with an army, and officers, and all sorts of workers.
When you get old enough to read Shakespeare's "Henry V.," you will find in it a pretty story about the bees. He says, "They have a king, and officers of sorts;" and tells how some of the bees act as magistrates at home, while other go abroad to trade like merchants, and still others are armed soldiers. Some, he tells us, are masons, and do the building, others make the bread and honey, yet others are porters and carry heavy burdens, while the judge hands the drones over to be executed.
We know the truth about bees now, and yet we like to read these old stories.
It used to be thought that bees carried little stones in their feet on windy days, so as not to be blown away. Probably the people saw their pollen balls and mistook them for ballast.
They used to think, too, that when the bees were belated and had to stay out all night, they would lie on their backs to keep their wings dry.
A good many people, even yet, will not sell bees, because they think it is unlucky; and when bees swarm, they sometimes use charms to keep them from going away. An old German bee-keeper, who lived in the United States, had such a charm.
He told it to a little girl, but said it would bring bad luck if she were to repeat it to another girl. She might tell it to a man, or a boy, and he to another girl, and so on, but a girl must never tell it to a girl, nor a boy to a boy. I will give you the charm in German, for those of you who understand German.
When you see the bees swarming, you must say to them,—
Liebe Bienen, und liebe Bienen Mutter,
Setzt euch auf Rasen und grünes Gras.
Im Namen des Vaters, des Sohnes, und des Heiligen Geistes.
You see, it is really a little prayer to the bees, and this is the English translation:—
Dear bees, and dear mother of the bees,
Place yourselves upon the meadow and the green grass,
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
A good many still think the bees must be told when there is a death in the family, or else they will go away.
A member of the family goes at night and knocks on the hives, and says, "So-and-so is dead," and sometimes adds a little prayer to the bees not to leave. Sometime a piece of black ribbon or crape is tied on the hives.
Whittier has written a beautiful poem called, "Telling the Bees," which I hope you will read.
The ancients used to believe that the bee was given its marvellous habits by Jupiter, the king of the gods, because the bees fed him with honey when he was a baby and lay concealed in a cave, while his angry father searched for him.
It seems that the gods had their troubles as well as human beings in those days, and Jupiter's father, Saturn, who was king, was very much afraid of his own children.
An oracle had told him that they would displace him; so he settled the matter, as he thought, by swallowing them as soon as they were born.
This unfortunate habit greatly distressed Saturn's wife, Rhea, and when Jupiter was born she gave him to the care of the Curetes,—a Cretan tribe who were very true to their charge.
They used to dance about the young god and drown his cries by rattling bronze weapons, so that Saturn might not hear and so find the royal infant. Jupiter was fed upon milk and honey by the goat Amalthea and the bees. This is the end of the story, so far as bees are concerned, but perhaps you will be glad to know that when Jupiter grew up he marries Metis, whom we would call Prudence, and she administered a draught to Father Saturn, which caused him to disgorge all his children. Then Jupiter and his disgorged brothers, Neptune and Pluto, made true the words of the oracle by dethroning their very unfatherly father, and dividing his kingdom among them. Jupiter took the heavens for his portion, as you know, while Neptune took the sea, and Pluto the underground world, or the realms of the dead.
A great many people think that when bees are about to swarm, a loud noise will prevent them from leaving, and they clash on tin pans, or ring bells, or blow whistles, or do anything they can think of to make a hullabaloo. No doubt they sometimes equal the uproar made by the Curetes about the infant Jupiter.
Honey was very highly valued in ancient Greece and Italy, and that which came from Mount Hymettus was specially prized. Hymettus is a mountain in Greece, near Athens, and used to contain famous bee-pastures.
A bee-pasture, you know, is a place grown over with flowers; and Mount Hymettus was said to be rosy-purple, it was so covered with heather blossoms.
Hybla, an ancient city on the sea-coast in Sicily, was also very celebrated for its honey.
Probably the best bee-pastures in the world, to-day, are in California. A great deal of the honey is made there.
Honey is not valued as highly as it used to be, because we now have sugar. But you can imagine that before the sugar-cane was cultivated, and when people had no sweet but honey, it was a most important and valuable article of food.
Honey is very good for children and for old people. It is more digestible than sugar, and most children like it better.
You remember how "The queen was in the parlor eating bread and honey," and I think it was a very good occupation for a queen or for anybody else.
A great deal of poetry has been written about bees, and there is one little verse that everybody knows. It was written by Dr. Watts.
"How doth the little honey bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower."
The most interesting thing we have learned in modern times about bees is their relation to the flowers. Some plants cannot set seeds at all without the help of the bees, and they are very great helpers in gardens and orchards.
If you want your trees loaded with apples and pears, be sure to put a bee-hive near the orchard.
Near Boston, where a great many cucumbers are raised for market in the winter in glass houses, hives of bees are kept in the houses to fertilize the cucumbers. If the little bees did not go from flower to flower carrying the pollen from one to another, a large force of men would have to be employed to brush the pistil of each cucumber blossom with pollen.