Bibliotherapy

John Opsopaus-The Bee Nymphs of Mount Parnassus

Albrecht Dürer-Venus and Cupid as the honey thief

*

‘…Our story begins long before Delphi was established. Delphi is perched on the side of Mount Parnassus, which (like all mountains) is haunted by nymphs, who are the daughters of Zeus. They often appear as attractive young women, who may seduce shepherds and take them as husbands. They frequent the oracular springs from which prophets draw their inspiration, for Earth is the font of Wisdom.

*

In the earliest times, before the Greeks came and before Apollo arrived at Delphi, priestesses delivered oracles received from Earth goddesses. They were oracles of Gaia, the Earth herself (more commonly named Ge in Ancient Greek). There were also oracles of Demeter, the grain goddess who name De-meter is a variant of Ge-meter, which means ‘Earth Mother’. Ancient lore also tells us that the goddess Themis delivered oracles at various sites, including Delphi, and she might have inherited this site from her mother, Gaia. (She is a daughter of Ouranos and Gaia: Heaven and Earth) You might not be familiar with Themis. Her name is the word for something that has been established, and it often translate as custom, order, law, and what is right; in the plural it refers to decrees and oracles of the gods. Some say the Moirai (Three Fates), who spin and measure out the destiny of every mortal, are her daughters. Thus, it is not surprising that the priestesses of Themis would deliver oracles by which mortals might guide their actions.

*

The Corycian Cave on Mount Parnassus above Delphi, was such an oracular site, where people sought oracles from the nymphs inhabiting the springs of the cave. Occupied since Neolithic times, there is evidence that the Mycenaean Greeks were visiting the cave for oracles from at least 1400 BCE. More than 23 000 astragaloi (ankle bone used for divination) and a large number of dice have been found along with many goddess statues dedicated in gratitude. Delphi had a long story of divination before Apollo arrived around 800 BCE.

*

Homeric Hymn IV, To Hermes, tells us of three nymphs who dwell on Mount Parnassus and use small stones for divination. They are described like bees-winged, buzzing, swarming, eating honey, etc.-but this is not unusual as it sounds, for bees are associated with many oracles, including Delphi. In fact, the Pythia (the prophetess of Delphi) is called ‘the Delphic Bee’. The priestesses of Demeter were called Bees (Greek, Melissai), as were those of some other goddesses. What is the connection with bees?

*

Both nymphs and bees haunt caves and trees and live near water, but there are deeper connections. Not only do bees have souls, but Virgil (Georgics IV) says they are pure souls and have a portion of divine mind. They subsist on honey, ‘the sweet food of the gods’, which inspires them with divine enthusiasm. Some ancient authors noted that bees reproduce parthenogenesically (‘by virgin birth’) and some priestesses were chaste, and thus like bees. Moreover, bees are clean, orderly, and civilized, and nymphs taught these virtues to our earliest ancestors. They taught morals and many practical skills to shepherds, who often encountered nymphs in the grottos and groves. For example, bee nymphs (Greek, Melissai) first taught humans to eat the fruit of trees instead of human flesh. And a nymph named Melissa was the first to taste honey and mix it with water to make hydromel. The Bee (Greek, Melissa) was named in her honor, and ever since, bees are sacred to her.

*

Another connection between oracles and bee nymphs is that prophecy is aided by taking in the divine spirit (Greek, pneuma; Latin, spiritus) in the form of a substance inhaled, drunk, or eaten. In early times, honey was the principal inspirational drink, often in the form of hydromel (which can be slightly alcoholic) or mead. Moreover, honey can be hallucinogenic if the bees frequent certain plants. (Wine as an inspirational drink arrived later with Dionysos) Honey was the traditional food of the gods, often identified with nectar and ambrosia, which confer divine immortality. As you will see, Apollo governs both poetry and prophecy, which are identical in origin, and both are compared to honey when they are divinely inspired and, as a consequence, are both true and beautiful. Bees serve the Muses, the divine patrons of the arts and science, who were described as bees and sent bees to inspire their devotees with honey.

*

Bees attended many of the greatest poets in their infancy and fed them honey. This was told of Plato himself, and also of Hesiod, Pindar, and Virgil, among others. For example, Euadne, a daughter of Posseidon and the nymph Pitane, bore a son to Apollo. Because she was ashamed of her illicit pregnancy, she gave birth in secret in a field of violets, and abandoned the child there. Bees came and fed the infant honey, or some say that Mother Earth sent her serpents to bring him the honey, which is called their blameless venom (Greek, ios). Either way, he acquired the gift of prophecy, Euadne dwelled in the palace of king Aigyptos of Arcadia, and when he realized she had given birth, he asked the Delphic Oracle about the father. The Pythia replied that it was Apollo and that the boy would be a famous prophet. Therefore, the king ordered Euadne to rescue the child, and since he was lying in a field of violets (Greek, ia), she named him ‘Iamos’. When he was a young man, he descended by night into the Alpheos River and invoked his father Apollo and his grandfather Zeus, seeking his destiny. Apollo led him then to Olympia and taught him prophecy. After Herakles established the Olympic Games, Iamos established the oracle there, and founded the lineage of Iamidai prophets, who were still active in the third century.

*

To return to the nymphs, the three bee nymphs of the Corycian Cave are named Melaina (Black One), Kleodora (Famed for Her Gifts), and Daphnis (Laurel) or Corycia (Greek, Korukia, named for the cave). Daphnis was said to be the first prophetess of the oracle of Gaia at Delphi. Apollo says that when they are offered honey, the bee nymphs rave and give true prophecies.

*

These prophetic nymphs are perhaps the same as the ‘Thriai’, daughters of Zeus, whom Hesychius calls the first prophets. They invented divination using small stones or pebbles, which was the earliest form of divination in ancient Greece, for thriai is the word for pebble divination, and thriasthai means ‘to divine’. You might wonder, is this method of divination named for the nymphs, or are the nymphs the spirit of the pebbles and named for them? Another possibility is that the nymphs originally taught divination by leaves or petals (Greek, thria), and that the name of this form of divination came to be applied to other kinds of lots, including pebbles, and that the thriai nymphs are the patrons of all kinds of divination. No one knows.

*

There is an old story that Athena, the goddess of Wisdom, learned pebble divination from the Thriai nymphs, or perhaps it is the other way around. Regardless, when Apollo was granted the exclusive right to know Zeus’ s plans, he demanded that other forms of divination be made unreliable. Therefore, Athena discarded the thriai pebbles in a place since known as the Thriasian Plain (the region around Eleusis, where the Mysteries were celebrated). This is why the Pythia said, ‘Many are the pebble-casters (thrioboloi), but prophets are few.’ No doubt she saw them as competition! Apollo learned prophecy from the bee nymphs when he was a shepherd on Mount Parnassus.’

‘The Bee Nymphs of Mount Parnassus’, from Chapter 2 of ‘The Oracles of Apollo’, by John Opsopaus_Llewelyn 2017.
Bu paylaşımın Türkçe çevirisi henüz mevcut değildir. Yazının tercümesi önceliklendirilsin isterseniz adresine e-posta göndermenizi rica ederiz.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

all rights reserved Hygeia Turkey 2020