General Overview

Few living creatures play such a large role in symbolism as this insect living in families. From time immemorial, people have been collecting honey from wild bees. The possibility of beekeeping was also discovered early on, and significant progress was made in providing food; honey was used not only to sweeten and induce fermentation, but also to prepare medicines, and wax – for making candles, later for metal castings with a melting wax model, in Egypt also for mummification of corpses.

Beekeeping has been documented there since about 2600 BC, and the bee was the hieroglyphic symbol for the Lower Egyptian kingdom.

In India, where the collection of honey from wild bees is profitable, beekeeping is didn’t progress, while in China it is very old. Because the Chinese word for bee (“fan”) resembles that of a title similar to that of a count, it is associated with the ladder of a life’s career. Otherwise, the bee symbolized not so much zeal as the image of the young lover trying the maiden colors. And in Chinese fairy tales, as in European ones, bees help to find the most suitable bride.

In the West, they liked to call the bee “Marina” or “God’s bird” and it was considered a symbol of the soul. Whoever dreamed of a bee, the approaching death appeared to him – the flying soul. But if a bee flew into a dead man’s mouth, he came to life. “The Bee Road” was the German allegory for the air of dead air.

In the Mediterranean there were quite strange ideas about the life of bees: they considered them asexual and was said that they came from decaying animal carcasses, that they had no blood and did not breathe. Compared to human qualities, they were called brave, chaste, diligent, pure harmoniously living in the family and endowed with artistic flair. “Bees” were called Eleusinian priests and priestesses. Because the bees’ hibernation was identified with death, they were also seen as the personification of the resurrection.

Left: one remaining bee from Napoleon’s coronation robes, gilt wire, 1804. Source: private collection. 
Upper right: detail, Empress Josephine’s Coronation Shoes France, 1804. Source: Les Arts Décoratif, Inventory 15110.
Lower right: Imperial Bee from coronation decorations in Notre-Dame de Paris, 1804, gilt bronze. Source: Musée de l’Armée, Dist. RMN. Photo: Pascal Segrette

The Christian figurative world could not ignore these comparisons. The indefatigability of the bee when working for its community served as a model. St. Ambrose compared the church to the hive, the pious parishioners to the bees, who collected only the best of all the flowers and feared the soot of arrogance. Bernard de Clervaux – in the personification of the Holy Spirit. In the secular sphere, the bee was a royal symbol because the queen of bees had long been considered a king. According to one hypothesis, the French coat of arms of lilies is derived from a stylized image of a bee.

The sweetness of honey became a symbol of the “honey” eloquence of St. Ambrose and St. John Chrysostom. The sweetness of honey also served as a symbol of Christ (kindness), but in combination with the sharp thorn at the Last Judgment. The notion, adopted from antiquity, that bees did not create their own offspring, but collected them from the flowers they circled, turned the bee into the personification of the Virgin Mary.

Medieval animal books also describe the art and elegance of honeycombs, the symmetrical hexagons of the cells that they (the bees) surround with hard wax and fill with honey formed by the dew they bring from the flowers… Honey is equally useful as for kings, and for ordinary people. It is not only edible, but also healthy, delicious with its sweetness and healing for wounds. Thus, although physically fragile, the bee is strong with the power of wisdom and the love of virtues.

“Bees diligently collect juice from flowers,
That’s why the wax house is full of honey.
Where harmony unites one’s hearts,
There fruit and benefit are born everywhere. “

Hoberg, 1675

In heraldry, the bee is most often found with more than one meaning, for example as a symbol of order and diligence – in the coat of arms of the Bonaparte family. Symbolically, in ancient times, the king of Lower Egypt was the “bee”, while the symbol of the king of Upper Egypt was the reed.

Scientific Data

Everyone knows about the hard-working bee that makes honey by collecting pollen from flowers. In fact, more than half of their bellies are filled with nectar and can carry nectar over long distances with a weight as much as their personal weight. The bee, which collects from the flowers, then transmits the nectar to the bee in the hive and enzymes from their bodies turn the nectar into honey while storing it in the hive and after about 5 days the honey is “finished”. When the process is ready, the honeycomb is sealed with wax, which is also produced by the bodies of the bees and thus preserves the honey for further use.

When a bee comes out of the hive to explore and finds flowers that will be suitable for collecting pollen, the scout returns and begins to “dance” through sudden body movements and sounds. This is a type of mapping the location of the flowers using the Sun as a reference – left, right or directly relative to it.

Of the tens of thousands in the colony, only a hundred are born male, and their main goal is to inseminate the queen, after which the drones die. And when it gets cold and there are still surviving drones, it means that they have not mated with the queen and are pushed out of the hive to certain death.

There are over 16,000 species of bees, but only honey bees species produce honey. They are found all over the world except Antarctica. The ancestor of the bee is the wasp, which feeds on other insects, and the evolution of the bee, which feeds on pollen and nectar, is thought to have come from pollen-eating insects that were prey of the wasp.