International Bee Day: the song "Bees Buzzing" in the museum Phonotheque

Since ancient times, human life has been connected with bees. The extraction of honey was one of the means of his livelihood. Echoes of this have come down to us in myths and legends, as well as in the form of images of bees on cave vaults, bowls, vessels and coins.

In Ancient Egypt a bee was honoured and depicted on obelisks. Pharaoh Minos, who united Lower and Upper Egypt, chose a bee as the emblem of Lower Egypt. The Egyptians, on their petitions to Pharaoh, drew a bee as a symbol of devotion. They saw in bees an example of dedication, fearlessness, contempt for death, danger, and guardians of perfect cleanliness and order. Egyptian pharaohs bore the title of Lord of Bees. According to Egyptian beliefs, the soul, leaving a human body, turns into a bee. Therefore, the images of bees were found on the tombs of the first dynasty of pharaohs and vessels with honey in their tombs. Images of bee houses were also found in the tombs of other Egyptians. It is known from Egyptian mythology that honey and wax were widely used in solemn sacrifices and embalming of the dead.

In India, a country of ancient culture, there is abundant evidence of interest in bees. The Indian name for a bee is "medhukara", meaning "honey maker". It is mentioned in myths, songs and ancient codes of laws. The Indian sun god Vishnu is depicted as a small bee resting in the bowl of a lotus flower, and it is said that wherever his footsteps honey flows out. God Krishna was depicted with a blue bee flying above his head. Kama, the god of love, carries a bow made of sugarcane, the bowstring of which is comprised of a chain of bees. It is a symbol of sweet suffering caused by the arrow of love.

In the language of some African tribes, the plurality of objects is emphasised by comparing them to bees. To note that a man has many cattle, they say, "He has cattle like bees in a bee house” or "the number of his cows is like a bee honey comb". Honey in Indian folk medicine was used to rejuvenate decrepit leaders and cure them, as it was believed to have magical properties.

Some peoples of the Middle East have the custom of placing bee houses on the graves of people who were characterised by bravery during their lifetime. There are several explanations for this. It is believed that bees will guard the grave as carefully as they guarded their combs, or that a bee honey house provides the deceased with the food needed for the journey to the other world. More commonly, bees were thought to symbolise immortality. Like airy spirits or wind, which change their places but never die. It was the custom of many peoples to inform honey house inhabitants that someone in the family had died. It was considered obligatory to address bees in the most affectionate manner, as they might take offence and leave the honey house.

The Arabic name of a bee (Nehlet, العاملة نحلة أو نملة) means "gift of God". According to Persian tales, bees sit on the lips of the deity Metis, and he will immediately recognise a liar and punish him.

Greek mythology is rich and varied. Along with gods, bees are often mentioned in it. It is known that the food of the immortal Olympian gods was ambrosia, and nectar was their drink. "Divine nectar" can undoubtedly be identified with flower nectar, and ambrosia with flower pollen.

During the feasts on Olympus, a beautiful couple, the goddess of youth, Hebe and the young man Ganymede, buzz about around the feasting. They spread ambrosia of amazing sweetness that melts in the mouth. It gives the whole body strength, peace of mind and immortality of the soul. Nectar was served in golden goblets. The Lydian king Tantalus – the son of Zeus, more than once visited Olympus at the will of the gods, feasted with them at the same table. And Tantalus became proud and considered himself their equal. Returning from Olympus, he took with him the food of the gods – ambrosia and nectar – and served them to his friends while feasting in his palace. The gods punished him severely for this.

The goddess Demeter, patronising King Celeus, brought up his son Demophon. Wishing to make the young man immortal, she rubbed him with ambrosia and hardened him in fire.

Bees in the concept of ancient peoples always belonged to the attributes of the divine. Thus, the emblems of Zeus were an eagle and a bee. Greek mythology tells that Zeus, born on Crete and brought up in a cave, was fed with milk of a divine goat and nectar. The golden cradle of Zeus stood in the Psychro grotto. The nature surrounded the cradle of the new god with love. Pigeons from the shores of the ocean brought him ambrosia, every evening an eagle flew in carrying a goblet of nectar; bees collected the sweetest honey for him and guarded the entrance to the cave. When mortals entered Zeus' cave to steal the honey, they were attacked by bees.

According to mythology, beekeeping in Greece was closely connected with the name of Aristaeus. On a beautiful sunny day, Apollo met a girl of rare beauty, Cyrene, whom he fell in love with and made his wife. They named their son Aristaeus. According to tradition, Apollo gave the newborn to the nymphs. They taught Aristaeus the art of cultivating the land and beekeeping. As an adult, Aristaeus wanted to share his newfound knowledge with people. For this purpose he visited the island of Keos in the southern Aegean Sea, where he taught beekeeping to the locals. Later, to honour the memory of Aristaeus, the people of Keos struck a coin with his image on it.

The bee played such an important role in the lives of Italian farmers that they chose a special patroness for –the goddess Mellona. In the Roman Empire, honey could be used instead of money to pay taxes.

According to French and Swiss folk beliefs, bees are the souls of the dead. Noblemen used to decorate their coat of arms with the image of a bee, symbolising diligence and order.

The Norse epic connects the myth of the origin of sacred honey, which gives strength, poetic inspiration and wisdom, with the name of one of the main gods, Odin, who obtained honey from the giants. Ancient Vikings, going into battle, believed that in Valhalla (the dwelling place of Einherjar – brave warriors fallen in battle) inexhaustible honey milk of the goat Heiðrún awaited them, and is said in the sagas that at the table of the father of heroes – Wotan – the chosen ones will receive a horn with marvellous honey from the hands of Valkyrie.

In America, the Maya had a bee god, Amuzenka (Ah Muzen Kab), whose images were found on the wall decorations of architectural monuments. The Mayans also worshipped other gods who were considered the patrons of bees. They took every precaution not to harm the bees when they worked with them, and if a bee died, they wrapped it in a leaf and buried it. Wax was used to make candles, which were used as offerings to the gods. A Latin American proverb says that angels created the bee. According to legend, the spiritual life force Manitou created bees from the people of the Indian tribe, who were characterised by great diligence, and turned the lazy ones into flies.

In major religions, honey was also repeatedly mentioned:

In Hinduism, honey (Madhu) is one of the five elixirs of immortality. In temples, honey is poured on deities in a ritual called Madhu abhisheka. In Hindu ancient books, the Vedas, honey is mentioned as a medicinal and dietary product.

In Buddhism, honey plays an important role in the Madhu Purnima festival held in India and Bangladesh. This festival symbolises the day when the Buddha withdrew from humans into the wilderness to bring peace between two quarrelling factions of disciples. According to legend, a monkey and an elephant fed him fruit and honey at that time.

In Jewish tradition, honey is the symbol of the new year - Rosh Hashanah. Apples and honey are obligatory for the festive meal on Rosh Hashanah – a piece of apple dipped in honey is eaten at the beginning of the meal, "to make the year sweet and happy".

The Christian New Testament (Matthew 3:4) says that John the Baptist lived for a long time in the desert, on a diet of locusts and wild honey.

In Islam, there is the entire surah in the Koran called an-Nahl (Honey). Prophet Muhammad strongly recommends honey for medicinal purposes. The Koran encourages honey as a nutritious and beneficial product.

Today, on the International Bee Day, we invite you to listen to the song "Bees Buzzing", digitised from a gramophone record stored in the museum section "Music Records". The lyrics to the song were written by Russian and Jewish poet and writer Emmanuil Kazakevich (1913-1962). Music was composed by Lev Jampolskiy (1989-1972); Marina Gordon (1917—2013) performed it.

The song was written for the play “Milk and Honey” by Kazakevich that staged in the Birobidzhan State Jewish Theatre in Yiddish in 1940. It is a humorous song dedicated to working bees that belong to the beekeeper Shai Kavalierczyk, one of the comedy characters.
Already in our time, the song has become available to Russian-speaking audiences: at the request of Nikolai Borodulin, a literary translation of "Bees Buzzing” was made by the famous performer, song translator, philologist Psoy Korolenko.

Marina (Masha) Gordon was a Soviet-American pop singer (coloratura soprano) known for singing songs by contemporary composers and poets in Yiddish. Since the mid-1950s she had been an artist of the Moscow State Estrade. She performed for the first time with a repertoire of Jewish songs, again permitted in the USSR after a long break on the stages of Moscow theatres, in 1956.

On the cover: "Bear meets Queen Bee" jewelry setLuis Alberto Quispe Aparicio. Brazil. 2019

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