Apis amat aram – “The bee loves the altar”*

August 24, 2012

On a blazing July day, stumbling around the lower slopes of Babadag (‘Father Mountain’) near Oludeniz in Turkey, I found this trough, fed by a stream flowing from a hole in a stone wall built across a gully.   This was about as close as I felt comfortable getting, as it was very popular with the honey bees, who were also taking the waters further downstream…

I’d already noticed rows of beehives interspersed among the pine trees and the rocks, but most of the bees seemed to be swarming around the trough and the stream, the hum of their buzzing growing louder as I approached.

All honeys have a distinctive flavour, depending on the plants that bees have been drawing nectar from.  Pine honey has a particularly deep, rich taste.  The area has seen much tourist-related development recently, with hotel and apartment complexes being built halfway up mountains on the upgraded road between Fethiye and Oludeniz.  There are worrying signs of these encroaching developments within a few hundred yards of the hives and the stream…

Babadag was formerly known as Mount Cragus, its rocks and forests the occasional residence – according to Horace – of the goddess, Diana (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babada%C4%9F_%28mountain%29). This mistress of the animals would surely feel in her element among the bees…

First published in 1937 (London: George Allen & Unwin), Hilda M. Ransome’s The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore states that the priestesses of the Great-Mother Cybele were known as Melissae, ‘bees’ (58).  Further, Porphyry says that the priestesses of Demeter “were called by the Ancients ‘Bees’ (Melissae), that Persephone herself was named by them Melitodes (honeyed), and that the Moon (Selene, afterwards identified with Artemis) was called by them a Bee” (96).

*The title comes from footnote 4 on page 262 of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.  It reads: “Apis amat aram.  Luna legit librum.  Pulla petit pascua.”  This translates as “The bee loves the altar.  The moon reads a book.  The foal seeks the pasture”.  In Latin it is yet another disguised manifestation of the feminine figure of Anna Livia Plurabelle (ALP), personification of the River Liffey (and all rivers), which flows past the mountainous bulk of Howth Head, the cranial personification of the patriarch, HCE, another ‘father mountain’ in Joyce’s book.




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