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Letters from the Hive

An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind

by Stephen L. Buchmann and Banning Repplier

Bantam Books, April 2005, Hardcover, 288 pages

Praise for Letters from the Hive

"From the emperor Napoleon to a traditional honey hunter in Malaysia, from suburban Tucson to the dark recesses of a beehive, Letters from the Hive explores the world-wide, ages-long intimacy between Apis mellifera and Homo sapiens. The religion of the bee, the art and the biology of beekeeping, one man's love and his race's long fascination with the honeybee, it's all here--up to and including the treatment of cataracts, how to avoid getting stung, and a recipe for lasagne with honey. I have to say, Letters from the Hive provides everything a beekeeper's apprentice could ask for." --Laurie R. King , author of The Beekeeper's Apprentice

Quotes from Letters from the Hive

"I am not alone in my passion for honey-making bees and their honey. From prehistoric times to the present, we humans have felt a mysterious and enduring connection to these furry little creatures and the food they produce. We have endowed them with magical properties, attributed to them surprising healing and cleansing powers, and seen in them meaningful symbols representing some of our most profoundly held beliefs.

"Our fascination with bees is deeply rooted in our collective consciousness. We see it in the cave paintings that our prehistoric ancestors left behind. We can read it in the rich, complex rituals and traditions that evolved to govern our relationship with these admirable insects. And we can still catch the reverberations of our instinctive connection to that part of the natural world every time a husband calls his wife "honey" or an excited child chases a buzzing bee through a bright summer afternoon. But its influence is much more far-reaching than you might imagine, extending not just to everyday moments of affection and play but to diverse cultures, religious beliefs, cuisines, and scientific study around the world. We can look for its roots in our history and, before that, our prehistory.

"Thanks to petroglyphs, the spectacular painted records still visible on cave walls throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and even Australia, we know our ancestors definitely had a sweet tooth, and we know that they indulged it by embarking on arduous and often dangerous honey hunts, armed with tools that enabled them to pillage bee nests with remarkable efficiency. We don't know why cave artists put so much effort into recording these often dramatic hunts. Perhaps the honey hunts signified something more profound than the simple harvesting of an ingredient to sweeten their days-something with deep religious or ceremonial meaning. Whatever the reason, vivid paintings chronicling those honey-hunting expeditions-beautifully stylized yet powerfully real-have been found on the ceilings and walls of hundreds of caves spanning the globe.

"In her recent book The Rock Art of Honey Hunters, Dr. Eva Crane, the grande dame of honey bee researchers, has collected some of the most striking examples of the cave art chronicling these prehistoric hunts. As she has vividly documented, there are a number of common elements that recur throughout this pictorial world. The honeycombs are prominently drawn, generally with great exuberance and appearing much larger than they are in real life. Bees, with or without wings, are shown flying angrily about as their nests are pillaged by the daring hunters. The hunters themselves are usually depicted either standing at the foot of a tree or cliff that harbors a bee nest or climbing long rope ladders to reach their prize. And they are typically shown naked-although to modern beekeepers, the idea of raiding a colony without protective clothing seems foolhardy at best. The honey hunters portrayed in African cave art frequently wear penis sheaths and nothing else."

About Stephen L. Buchmann

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