Words Crush Wednesday – Odd Beliefs about Bees

Published May 25, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

So for Words Crush Wednesday this week I have two quotes for you, one from Plato and one from Michael Ruse’s The Darwinian Revolution, in which he’s paraphrasing Robert Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, a popular but not very scientific pre-Darwinian book on evolution, which both helped and hindered the true science of evolution.  (It’s complicated…)

Because I like to go chronologically, we’ll start with Plato’s Republic, translated by G.M.A. Grube and rendered all but unreadable by C.D.C. Reeve.  (Seriously, the latter thought it was a good idea to remove the quotation marks and most of the “I said”s and “he said”s from this dialog.  So the result is that most of the time you cannot tell who is speaking!  Because sometimes a change in paragraph means a change in speakers, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Worst.  Edition.  Ever.)

[Prior to this quote, they’ve been discussing oligarchies, and how under an oligarchy it’s permissible for a rich person to sell all his possessions and live on in the city without belonging to any of the useful parts of the city.]

[Socrates]  Should we say, then, that as a drone exists in a cell and is an affliction to the hive, so this person is a drone in the house and an affliction to the city?

[Adeimantus] That’s certainly right, Socrates.

[Socrates]  Hasn’t the god made all the winged drones stingless, Adeimantus, as well as some wingless ones, while other wingless ones have dangerous stings?  And don’t the stingless ones continue as beggars into old age, while those with stings become what we call evildoers?

[Adeimantus] That’s absolutely true.

Yes, you read that right:  Plato thought there were old beggar bees, and criminal bees.  (That’s nothing, though.  At the time, they also thought bees spontaneously generated inside corpses, so if the hives were getting underpopulated, they’d kill a cow and leave its body to rot near the hives.  Without ever picking up on the fact that that didn’t help.)  Later in the same discussion, Socrates refers to the “dronish ways” of the spendthrifts in the oligarchies.  That I was very pleased to read, because it meant that I finally understood the reason the Drones Club is called that!  I had always thought it was the weirdest thing to call a club for rich, idle layabouts…but Wodehouse had obviously read Plato!  (Well, of course he had!)

Oh, and somewhere else in one of the two Plato dialogs we read this semester (I think it was the Republic again, but I’m not positive) it referred to ants and bees as having kings.  Yet another ancient misconception about bees…

But now we’re going to move on to a 19th century odd belief about bees!

Chambers then backed up his suggestions [that the length of the gestation period was an indicator of the quality of the being produced] with two important illustrations.  The queen bee has a much shorter gestation period than the worker, and we all know how superior the worker is to the queen, since the worker is so industrious and the queen is distracted at every turn by sexual passion and jealousy.  Chambers may have been an atypical Victorian, but he was not that atypical.

Okay, I have a task for anyone out there with connections to the animation industry:

Please make a very stupid (intentionally so, of course) cartoon involving old beggar bees, criminal bees, and a sexually jealous queen bee.

Thank you.



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