This month’s note is a discourse on bee diseases from that noted writer Virgil. It is taken from his Georgics Book 4 which deals with beekeeping and apiculture and is illustrative of the knowledge of the time.
Since life has brought the same misfortunes to bees as ourselves,
if their bodies are weakened with wretched disease,
you can recognise it straight away by clear signs:
as they sicken their colour immediately changes: a rough
leanness mars their appearance: then they carry outdoors
the bodies of those without life, and lead the sad funeral procession:
or else they hang from the threshold linked by their feet, or linger
indoors, all listless with hunger and dull with depressing cold.
Then a deeper sound is heard, a drawn out murmur,
as the cold Southerly sighs in the woods sometimes,
as the troubled sea hisses on an ebb tide,
as the rapacious fire whistles in a sealed furnace.
Then I’d urge you to burn fragrant resin, right away,
and give them honey through reed pipes, freely calling them
and exhorting the weary insects to eat their familiar food.
It’s good too to blend a taste of pounded oak-apples
with dry rose petals, or rich new wine boiled down
over a strong flame, or dried grapes from Psithian vines,
with Attic thyme and strong-smelling centaury.
There’s a meadow flower also, the Italian starwort,
that farmers call amellus, easy for searchers to find:
since it lifts a large cluster of stems from a single root,
yellow-centred, but in the wealth of surrounding petals
there’s a purple gleam in the dark blue: often the gods’ altars
have been decorated with it in woven garlands:
its flavour is bitter to taste: the shepherd’s collect it
in valleys that are grazed, and by Mella’s winding streams.
Boil the plant’s roots in fragrant wine, and place it
as food at their entrances in full wicker baskets.
Publius Vergilius Maro (October 15, 70 BC – September 21, 19 BC), usually called Virgil or Vergil in English, was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues (or Bucolics), the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid. A number of minor poems, collected in the Appendix Vergiliana, are sometimes attributed to him.
Virgil is traditionally ranked as one of Rome’s greatest poets. His Aeneid has been considered the national epic of ancient Rome from the time of its composition to the present day. (Which I hated because I had to plough through it in Latin at school. Ed).
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