, , , , , , , , , , ,

esse apibus partem diuinae mentis et haustus | aetherios dixere — Vergil, Georgics 4.220-221

Just saw this quoted in Claire Preston, 2006, Bee London: Reaktion Books. Google tells me that Claire Preston is Professor of Early Modern English literature at the University of Birmingham. It’s quoted, in itself a quote, from 17th C. Italian writer. I really, really, want to like this book. I love Bees. I love this sort of scholarship (although this is not really a piece of serious scholarship, and for me, just light-hearted summer reading). It’s a really interesting book about Bees, their natural and social history,

However the book is full of quotes, from English translations, mostly Dryden, of Vergil, quoted by page number. Which is really, really sloppy, because it makes much of the translation’s meaning (bees keep shop, they live in a commonwealth, etc), when the translations can’t be necessarily trusted. But never mind, until I saw the above passage translated as:

It is said that bees share divine intelligence by drinking ethereal draughts.

I just can’t let it pass. Plainly, apibus is dative/ablative apis (“bee”), so it means “to/by/with/from bees”. diuinae mentis is genitive f. singular, so “of the divine mind” and partem is accusative, and forms both the object and forms part of the infinitive-accusative construction esse … dixere. So I think apibus is dative, so that leaves it as “to/from bees”. However I doubt that et haustus aetherios is the agent of partem diuinae mentis, because clearly the et is introducing a new clause, it’s an additional accusative object with an implicit verb like ‘[given] to the bees’, with aetherios a nominative an accusative plural adjective used as a substantive “… and drinking ethereal [elixirs]”, supposing that if you can be drinking anything ethereal, it would have to be an elixir of some sort. So I think something like, to be quite literal for the moment about the infinitives:

to be to the bees a share of the divine mind, and drinking ethereal [elixir], to have said.

But of course, infinitive-accusative, oratio obliqua, indirect speech, and esse with the dative can mean in the sense of ‘to belong’ or ‘to pertain to’, so naturally;

It is said that to the bees [belongs] a share of the divine mind, and drinking ethereal elixirs.

Curiously, Lewis and Short on Perseus gives esse as the present infinitive active also of edo, “to eat”, and the presence of haustus, “drinking” … really makes me wonder if the translation could be rendered along the lines of:

It is said that the bees eat of the divine mind, and drink ethereal elixirs.

There’s also a sense with aetherius can mean “heavenly” or “celestial”, not just “ethereal”, and in that sense it tickles my fancy much better in terms of its relation to “the divine mind”, so perhaps we could render it;

It is said that the bees eat the Mind of God, and drink of Heaven.

After all the part of Georgics here immediately after this expounds on how God permeates all existence:

deum namque ire per omnes | terrasque tractusque maris caelumque profundum — Vergil Georgics 4.221-222. (see here).

More prosaically, however, and bringing it back to earth for a moment, I’d say it most likely translates:

It is said that to the bees belongs a share of the divine mind, and the drinking of heavenly elixirs.