Bees’ Journeys is a series of our Big Buzz Diaries where we explore in short the history of honey and bees throughout different cultures. The reason behind such an endeavour is our wish to see and understand the different paths bees and their sweet produce have taken so that we can still enjoy honey in all its forms after millennia of devoted labour and care for our humming friends.
The use and harvest of honey in Greece dates back thousands of years. Honey has been prevalent in many customs, medicine and mythology.
The father of medicine Hippocrates wrote: „Honey and pollen cause warmth, clean sores and ulcers, soften hard ulcers of lips, heal carbuncles and running sores.“ The ancient doctor had various mixtures to treat different conditions.
In daily use, honey was put in milk and given as a food to children. It was also used to preserve fruit, especially apples throughout the year. Mead, but also wine with honey were popular drinks at the time.
Bees are also a common occurrence in ancient Greek mythology, as many stories involve the little beings in one way or another. One such story tells of the birth of Zeus, King of the Gods. His father, the god Kronos, wished to destroy him, and so his mother smuggled him off to a secret cave on Mount Dicte. The cave was populated by sacred bees which fed the infant god honey. The god remained in the cave until he was grown, then dethroned his father Kronos and became the new king of the gods. Likely due to this story, one of Zeus’s titles was Melissaios, or “bee-man”. In an act of gratitude the bees were rewarded by Zeus by making them bright gold in colour, and strong enough to resist cold and winds.
Dionysus, the god of wine, was also raised in a cave and fed with honey. Even after wine took the place of mead, honey remained sacred to Dionysus. His followers had ivy-wrapped wands from which honey flowed. He was also credited with being the creator of beekeeping.
The bee also became a symbol for Artemis, goddess of wilderness and the Thriae, the nymphs. The symbol of the bee can be found on Ephesian coins and gold plaques. Bees were also called „weather prophets“as they were used in order to predict coming rain
It can be said that bees and their sacred nectar were and still are an important part of Greek culture. The little creatures helped in the everyday lives of the citizens and were key players in their mythology. This, yet again, permeated through the whole of Greek society and mapped honey’s journey to the present as one of those natural substances that imbue our senses and consciousness with feelings of community, lightness and sacredness.