Photo by Candia Dixon-Stuart at Kingham Lodge Sculpture in the Gardens
Aphrodite, Aristomachus, Aristotle, Asiatic hornet, Astarte, Benedictine, Brother Adam, Buckfast Abbey, Clocalus, Daedalus, Empedoclean, entomology, Erice, Golden Honeycomb, Huber, John the Baptist, Maeterlinck, Mexican honey, Minos, ovipositor, Pantalica, parthenogenesis, Pindar, Plagues of Egypt, propolis, Sicels, Sicily, Superbee, The Sunday Times, Tim Rayment, varroa, Vergil, vespula germanica, Vincent Cronin, Wasp Factory
Have you read that book, The Wasp Factory? I asked Brassica, while flicking
away yet another of the little pesks.
(Suttonford seems to be overrun with the stripey menaces.) It is as if we
are being afflicted by one of the Plagues of Egypt. I wonder what we have
done to deserve this castigation? Perhaps it is part of our having
experienced at least seven lean years. I do hope that the River Sutton
doesn’t turn to blood, or we find frogs in our beds.
No, can’t say I have read it, Brassie replied. It seemed to be a bit violent,
from what I heard. Wasn’t it Iain Banks’ first novel?
Yes, it was… Well, perhaps I have been accused of being waspish, I continued,
but it is only my tales that have a sting. These wretched vespula germanicas
had a go at me in my own kitchen when The Husband was making apple juice.
I was oviposited when I tried to open my fridge door. One of the blighters
was skulking behind the handle and didn’t take kindly to being squeezed.
They say that Asiatic Hornets are going to invade us, so I don’t know what
we humans will have to do to wreak revenge on the whole entomological pack
I thought ‘entomological’ meant something like ‘cut into pieces’, Candia. So
couldn’t you chop them up and anatomise them? But you don’t hate bees,
do you? Didn’t you write a bee poem once, Candia?
Ah, yes, but bees are different. I did write about them. I was incensed when
I read an article by Tim Rayment in The Sunday Times about Buckfast Abbey
stocking its gift shop with Mexican Honey when they had Brother Adam, a
world expert in their community, cultivating his own hives. He knew all about
bee genetics and the coming dangers of varroa, but they didn’t appear to fully
value his lifelong expertise.
(Brother Adam: Wikipedia)
Ah well, expertise is not valued as it was in our day. Buckfast Abbey?
Isn’t that where monks produced that fortified wine?
I was surprised that Brassie had heard of it.
The one that all the down and outs imbibed, to drink themselves
into oblivion? she persisted.
Yes, I laughed. I don’t suppose they could afford Benedictine proper.
It was a favourite tipple in Glasgow, as I recall. I’d be surprised if Ginevra
didn’t have a couple of bottles stowed away. She probably developed a
nose for it when she lived up north.
But, surely all that outcry about Brother Adam was ages ago? Brassie
queried. I remember people being cynical and re-naming the abbey
Yes, it was in the Nineties, but the wise old monk is dead now, I elucidated.
Tell you what, though, I will try and find that poem and give it an airing.
You might find it a tonic!
Bad pun, Candia!
SWEETNESS AND LIGHT
That consummate Cretan craftsman Daedalus
delivered the golden comb to Astarte,
at Erice, in Empedoclean obedience-
a votive for deliverance from vindictive Minos
and hospitality in a land far from home.
The divine sanctuary was perched
on a parched plain, pervaded by mists.
Clocalus, King of Sicily, harboured him,
When Astarte became Aphrodite,
the bees performed for the Romans.
Pindar sang with a swarm surrounding his lips,
savouring ambrosia; waxing lyrical,
achieving honey-sweet immortality.
Bees no longer born from bulls,
were winged messengers, bringing fortune;
nourishing neophytes, even as in Nazareth-
before honeycombs became catacombs.
Man would not live by bread alone
and John the Baptist found this so.
Parthenogenesis proved paramount;
passion usurped by agape.
But now the Fastbucks,
who neither know nor care about
Aristotle, nor acarine disease;
Vergil nor varroa
usurpthe Superbee with entrepreneurial excess.
He could hermetically seal them up
in a sepulchre of propolis and wax,
like acherontia atropus.
Brother Adam could have them balled,
or left like open-eyed statuary of Daedalus.
For this monk, equal of kings
and approaching the gods
has known Rule without recognition
and obedience rendered-
a Pope, and regulator of reproduction;
equaliser of wealth and
dabbler in dethronement,
halting hostilities and honing harvests,
unveiling the comb as blind Huber.
Aristomachus may have had a bee in his bonnet,
buzzing around for nigh on sixty years,
but Adam, superceded after seventy,
degraded, drone-like, yet faithful to his queen
will enter Pantalica’s passage
and swarm, immortal in a golden prism.
The king will bate his barb,
but abbots should not suffocate their saviour.
Notes to follow-
Daedalus, although reputed to have come from Athens, probably came
from Crete. He was said to have made a fantastic golden honeycomb and
presented it to Aphrodite, or Astarte, at Erice, Sicily. He was thought to
have brought apiculture to Sicily- see Vincent Cronin, The Golden Honeycomb.
Daedalus was on the run from Minos, King of Crete. Daedalus’ nephew and
apprentice had been murdered. Maybe Alan Sugar ain’t that bad!
Empedocles suggested that Aphrodite could be made propitious by
offering her honey.
The bees- this was a nickname for the priestesses of Aphrodite. Two
hundred Roman soldiers guarded her shrine at Erice.
Pindar wrote about Sicily. A poet described him as above.
Bees were thought to have been born from bulls- a superstition much
like scarabs being thought to originate from dung.
The boy Jesus was given a honeycomb so that he would associate
scripture with sweetness.
John the Baptist lived on locusts and wild honey.
Parthenogenesis- reproduction in insects, without the ovum being
Aristotle wrote treatises on bees.
Varroa- a bee disease
Brother Adam created the Buckfast Superbee
Maeterlinck describes how the invader is not expelled but suffocated
in the hive.
Daedalus was the first sculptor to represent the eyes as open.
Balling -to surround the old queen until she suffocates, rather than
directly killing her.
Huber- blind and born in Geneva in 1750. he devoted himself to the
study of bees.
Aristomachus-another ancient bee lover.
Pantalica- where the Sicels built tombs in the gorge. Bees swarm into
the rock clefts and produce inaccessible combs. Was this the site of
Daedalus’ missing masterpiece? A possibility, according to Cronin.