Why Bees?

Literary works have long been associated with flowers ('anthology' in Greek and 'florilegium' in Latin both mean "a gathering of flowers"), and literary creation and imitation have been associated with bees in Latin and Renaissance literary theory (Virgil, Horace, Seneca, Erasmus, Macrobius, Burton, Ronsard, Montaigne, et al). I have chosen the bee motif for this site because Proust, too, associates bees and flowers with literature.  In the opening pages of Sodom and Gomorrah the Narrator compares the amorous scene between Charlus and Jupien to the cross-pollination, nearby, of the Duchesse de Guermantes' orchid by a bee.  This is the occasion for some of the most enigmatic reflections in the novel, during which the Narrator states, "j'avais déjà tiré de la ruse apparente des fleurs une conséquence sur toute une partie inconsciente de l'œuvre littéraire" (3: 5) ["I had already drawn from the apparent ruse of flowers a conclusion that bore upon a whole unconscious element of literary production"].

In addition, Cocteau writes in Hommage à Marcel Proust, published by La Nouvelle Revue française shortly after Proust's death:

"Ses ruses pour composer son miel trompèrent plus d'un intime. [. . .] Car Proust SERVAIT. Il servait sa ruche.  Il obéissait à des lois de miel et de nuit.  Le dix-huit novembre, il a quitté son corps sans accepter la médecine, comme une ruche se vide le jour de l'essaimage, en pleine gloire.  Il faut y reconnaître, sans le comprendre, un acte analogue au sacrifice des abeilles." (92) [His ruses for composing his honey deceived more than one intimate . [. . .] Because Proust SERVED. He served his hive.  He obeyed the laws of honey and of night.  The 18th of November, he left his body without accepting any medicine, as a hive empties itself the day the hive swarms and scatters, in full glory.  We should recognize this, without understanding it, as an act analogous to the bee's sacrifice.]

In The Image of Proust Walter Benjamin picks up on Cocteau's assertion and states that "from the honeycombs of memory [Proust] built a house for the swarm of his thoughts" (203).



Mark Calkins © 2009
Page last updated: May 25, 2005