Roman Bee Lore

Until the end of the 18th.century the didactic Greek and Latin writers on Agriculture were widely regarded as authoritative in their views and their writings, or later works based on them, commonly served as practical guides in husbandry. Modern developments in agricultural science and practice, however, have so largely detracted from their value that with one or two exceptions they are not now published in any language and it is exceedingly difficult to obtain copies of them either in the languages in which they were originally written or in translations.

In this paper I have collated and commented upon practically everything of importance in the old Latin writings relating to Bees and have, perhaps, rescued from oblivion a great deal of information respecting ancient beekeeping which should prove to be quite new to British readers and also, I hope, not uninteresting to many who are not engaged in the delightful pursuit of Apiculture.

In my treatment of what has proved to be a rather complicated subject I have endeavoured to show that the Romans not only possessed apiarian knowledge far more considerable than is commonly supposed and that in many respects they were in advance of rustic beekeepers of to-day, but also that the art of beekeeping remained practically stationary throughout mediaeval times.

In order to make my subject more intelligible to the lay reader I have given such information respecting Natural History and Modern Beekeeping as from time to time appeared to be necessary, and for the convenience of the examiner I have included in the text a large number of quotations, many of which, if this paper be published, will be omitted altogether or written as foot-notes.

Except in the cases of Varro and Vergil I know of no modern commentaries on the Latin writings on Apiculture. The old annotations available have proved of little value for the purpose of this paper, not so much because they are sometimes inaccurate, as because their scholarly authors frequently accepted without comment statements which were not technically true and, on account of lack of practical experience, omitted to interpret others so as to give them force and meaning in the light of the apicultural knowledge of their times. I have preferred, therefore, as a rule, to give my own comments and interpretations rather than to review those made by others.

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