Bees and flowers

 

Sir, – I enjoyed Paddy Woodworth’s recent article on bees (“More to Irish bees than honey, hives and dancing”, Weekend, February 23rd).

It brought to mind a papyrus text I published some years ago from the second-century AD Egypt, which, although fragmentary, concerned a dispute involving beekeepers, shepherds and flowers. The best sense I could make of the petition was that sheep had wandered, or been intentionally sent by shepherds, into fields that had been rented by beekeepers for their bees. Sheep had a bad reputation in Egypt for damaging crops, and there were laws to deal with the offence, but this text was the only instance I could find of sheep eating, or damaging, flowers meant for bees.

Virgil, in his beautiful poem the Georgics, does advise beekeepers to find a location where “neither sheep nor butting goats will trample the flowers” (neque oves haedique petulci/ floribus insultentGeorgics 4.10-11).

Conditions in modern Ireland differ greatly from the hot and arid land of ancient Egypt, where flowers and trees were in short supply, but I just wonder whether any of your readers know of cases in which beekeepers rent land not just for somewhere to locate their hives, but to preserve specific pasturage for their bees. – Yours etc,

BRIAN McGING,

Department of Classics,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.