“Passing their lives under exalted laws,
Alone they recognize a fatherland
And the sanctity of a home, and provident
For coming winter set to work in summer
And store their produce for the common good.”
Virgil, The Georgics IV
Bees simply stand out from other animals at the homestead. It’s as though they’re trying to teach us something. In several ways.
In no other domestic animal are daily activities so directly and obviously about the whole, about the ‘fatherland,’ as it were. The flourishing of the hive is a complex order, something far beyond the reach of any individual, or small number of bees. Each must do its part—no more and no less. The work of each is somehow woven together into a fabric, the beauty and reality of which both embodies and transcends what each alone has accomplished.
Provident foresight is likewise modeled. Calm and consistent, today’s work is given direction and importance by future needs—the needs of others, who will come later. Others’ flourishing is the object. Today.
I love to stop and watch the foragers coming and going from their home, their fatherland. (Foragers, of course, are older bees. Young bees start out with simpler jobs inside the hive.) The steady pattern at the hive entrance–closing in, hovering, landing, and taking off—is so steady that what is in fact hundreds or even thousands of foragers looks like it’s the same twenty bees doing it again and again. Thunderstorm? No problem. The sun will be back, soon enough. Nighttime? Well-deserved rest for the weary foragers. There is a time and a place for everything.
So the daily routine of the bees evidences and constitutes the sanctity of their home. And a person is honored to have ever so small a part in their foresight, and work, and its glorious fruits.
Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy Virgil appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.