In Greek mythology, the god of bee-keeping as called Aristaeus. He inevitably caused the death of Eurydice, who was fleeing from him when he stepped on a snake. Eurydice‘s nymph sisters punished Aristaeus by killing all his bees. Aristaeus wept when he saw all the empty hives where his bees dwelt. He consulted Proteus, who advised him to honor the memory of Eurydice by sacrificing four cows and four bulls. Aristaeus heeded the advice and allowed them to rot and from their corpses emerged bees that filled his empty hives.
Also in Ancient Greek, the goddess Demeter was attended to by priestesses known as Melissae which means ‘bees’. All kinds of bees were thought to have special knowledge as well as the ability to see into the future.
According to Egyptian mythology, when the sun god’s (Ra) tears landed on the desert sand, they turned into bees. The bee, particularly the honey bee, was an insignia of kingship associated particularly with Lower Egypt. It signified the sovereignty of the Pharaoh over Lower Egypt. After the Upper and Lower Egypt had been unified, the symbol was incorporated into the king’s title and would often precede the throne name of Pharaoh and express the unity of the two realms. The Pharaoh was often referred to as ‘He (or She) of the Sedge and Bee’.
In Ancient Near East and Aegean cultures, the Bee was believed to be sacred as it bridged the natural world to the underworld.
In the Homeric Hymn, Apollo’s gift of prophecy is acknowledged as having first come to him from three bee maidens.
There is a legend held by the Baganda of Uganda of the first man on earth, Kintu. According to the legend, Kintu lived alone on earth with his cow while Ggulu lived in Heaven. One day he asked permission to marry Ggulu’s daughter, Nambi. To prove his worth, Kintu had to pass a trial of five tests. The last test required Kintu to pick out Ggulu’s cow from a herd of cattle. To help Kintu pass the test, Nambi transformed herself into a bee and whispered in his ear to choose the cow whose horn she would land on.
The Hindu love god, Kamadeva’s bow has a bowstring made of honeybees.
The Hittite mythology has it that Telipinu, the god of agriculture, once went on a rampage, refusing to allow animals to produce offspring or plants to grow. The Goddess Hannah sent a bee to bring him back. The bee found Telipinu, stung him and smeared wax on him. The god became even angrier until the goddess Kamrusepa used a particular ritual to send his anger to the Underworld.
The San people of Kalahari Desert have a tale of a bee that carried a mantis across a river. When the bee got exhausted, it left the mantis on a floating flower and planted a seed in the mantis’ body before it died. When the seed grew, it became the first human.
A colony of honey bees has often been used by political theorists to signify human society. This as a joint metaphor seen in Aristotle, Plato, Virgil, Seneca, Erasmus, Shakespeare and Bernard Mandeville’s work.