Keeping the Bees

Keeping and caring for honey bees was practiced in Ancient Egypt for thousands of years. Aside from bees being recognized as the “Tears of Re” (the Sun), Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs reveal the importance of the honey bee, as well as the cultivation of hives for more than 4000 years, not only as a sweetener, but also for medicinal purposes. The Ebers Papyrus, written around 1500 bce details the use of honey as a topical application for wounds, abscesses, sores, burns and skin conditions. The honey served as an antibiotic barrier to prevent infection.

Honey Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt

Menes, the legendary founder of Egypt’s First Dynasty, was the first pharaoh of the unified Egypt, joining Upper and Lower Egypt in a single centralized monarchy. King Menes called himself “The Bee Keeper” and all pharaohs after him used that phrase to describe their role as leaders of the people of Egypt. In addition, the Pharaohs’ administration had a special office called the “Sealer of the Honey”’ and Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt bore the title “he who belongs to the sedge and the bee.” An image of the Bee was often positioned next to the Pharaohs’ seal.

There are references to Bees in E. Wallis Budge’s translation of the Book of Opening the Mouth. One phrase simply states, “The Bee, giving him protection, they make him to exist” (Budge 31), while another adds: “Going about as a bee, thou seest all the goings about of thy father” (Budge 158).

The rain water is coming down in torrents, with the Sun peaking through for a few hours at a time, and I witness large honey bees in a slow dance while they imbibe the pollen of the passionflowers. They float by and seem to stop and look at me while I look at them, then ever so slowly they exchange flowers and continue on their languid path through the garden. “When Re weeps , the water which flows from his eyes upon the ground turns into working bees. They work in flowers and trees of every kind and wax and honey come into being” (Salt Papyrus 825).