A Bee Oddity

My wife, a classical scholar, is working on a commentary on the Georgics, an agrarian work from ancient Rome written by Vergil, one of the greatest of Roman writers. Our dog walks these days frequently find me getting the latest interesting bits she’s unearthed from the text (along with what she learns from her lunchtime reading of Cato the Elder, an earlier Roman writer also writing on agricultural themes, among other things). Most recently, I learned that one theory Vergil puts forward — though Aristotle and Pliny the Elder mention it too, and it’s unclear if Vergil actually believes it — is that a beehive gets repopulated when existing bees go out and use their mouths to capture baby bees from leaves and “sweet plants [suavibus herbis]” (presumably those they’d go to in search of nectar), which they then carry (still in their mouths) back to the hive. Where do the baby bees come from? Unclear. This may sound a little less wacky if you know that everybody thought that the queen of the hive was in fact a king — because, you know, the biggest bee in the hive couldn’t possibly be female.

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