The Queen Bee

“The Queen Bee” is a German fairy tale, tale number 62 from over 200 collected by the Brothers Grimm. It represents a type 554 ‘the grateful animals’ motif according to the Aarne-Thompson classification system of folktales.

“Two sons of a king went out to seek their fortunes, but fell into disorderly ways. The third and youngest son, Simpleton, went out to find them, but they mocked him. They traveled on, and Simpleton prevented his brothers from destroying an ant hill, killing some ducks, and suffocating a bee hive with smoke. Then they came to a castle with stone horses in the stable, and no sign of anyone. They hunted through the castle and found a room with a little gray man, who showed them to dinner. In the morning, he showed the oldest son a stone table, on which were written three tasks. Whoever performed them would free the castle.

“The first task was to collect the princess’s thousand pearls, scattered in the woods. Whoever tried and failed would be turned to stone. Each of the older brothers tried and failed, and they were turned to stone. For the youngest, however, the ants collected the pearls. The second task was to fetch the key to the princess’s bedchamber from the lake, which the ducks did for him. The third task was to pick out the youngest princess from the three sleeping princesses who looked exactly alike; the only difference was that the oldest had eaten a bit of sugar before they slept, the second a little syrup, and the youngest some honey. The queen bee picked out the youngest.

“This woke the castle, and restored those who had been turned to stone. The youngest son married the youngest princess, and his two brothers, the other princesses.”

 

Hum Hum Hum …

Beekeeper on an old German stained glass painting. Underneath the refrain of a children's song by Hoffmann von Fallersleben
Beekeeper on an old German stained glass painting. Underneath the refrain of a children’s song by Hoffmann von Fallersleben

“Hum, hum, hum” is one of Germany’s most popular children’s songs. August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the text in 1835 under the original title ‘Bee’. It was first published in 1843.

The text is based on the Lorsch Bee Blessing from the 10th century. The melody of the song follows a folk tune from Bohemia, recorded for the first time in 1825. The American composer Otto Dresel (1826-1890) composed a version in 1847 for vocal duet and piano.

The Oracular Bee

Plaque_bee-goddess_BM_GR1860.4-123.4
Gold plaques embossed with winged bee goddesses. Camiros, Rhodes. 7th century B.C.

Three bee maidens with the power of divination and thus speaking truth are described in Homer’s Hymn to Hermes, and the food of the gods is “identified as honey”. The bee maidens were originally associated with Apollo, and are probably not correctly identified with the Thriae, a trinity of pre-Hellenic Aegean bee goddesses.

Honey, according to a Greek myth, was discovered by a nymph called Melissa (“Bee”), and honey was offered to the Greek gods from Mycenean times. Bees were associated, too, with the Delphic oracle and the prophetess was sometimes called a bee.

Bees that collect honey …

 

 Stele showing Shamash-resh-ușur praying to the gods Adad and Ishtar with an inscription in Babylonian cuneiform.

Stele showing Shamash-resh-ușur praying to the gods Adad and Ishtar with an inscription in Babylonian cuneiform.

I am Shamash-resh-ușur, the governor of Suhu and the land of Mari. Bees that collect honey, which none of my ancestors had ever seen or brought into the land of Suhu, I brought down from the mountain of the men of Habha, and made them settle in the orchards of the town ‘Gabbari-built-it’. They collect honey and wax, and I know how to melt the honey and wax – and the gardeners know too. Whoever comes in the future, may he ask the old men of the town, (who will say) thus: “They are the buildings of Shamash-resh-ușur, the governor of Suhu, who introduced honey bees into the land of Suhu.”

— translated text from stele, (Dalley, 2002)