Mysteries of the bees and lizards

The best honey in antiquity was that which came from the Hyblaean mountain range in Sicily:

They’ve been as plentiful as the pomegranate seeds reddening
under their slow-growing husks, in some fertile farm’s orchard,
as African grain, as the grape clusters of Lydia,
as olives of Sicyon, as honeycombs of Hybla.
(Ovid, Ex Ponto IV.XV:1-42)

Happy old man, who ‘mid familiar streams
and hallowed springs, will court the cooling shade!
Here, as of old, your neighbour’s bordering hedge,
that feasts with willow-flower the Hybla bees,
shall oft with gentle murmur lull to sleep.
(Virgil, Eclogue 1)

The posture of your blows are yet unknown.
But for your words, they rob the Hybla bees
And leave them honeyless.
(William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar 5.1.2)

A contingent of Dionysos’ army during the Indian War came from this area:

To him came from Sicily longshot Achates, and shieldbearing comrades with him, a great host of Cillyrioi and Elymoi, and those who lived round the seat of the Palicoi; those who had a city by the lake Catana near the Sirens, whom rosy Terpsichore brought forth by the stormy embraces of her bull-horned husband Acheloös; those who possessed Camarina, where the wild Hipparis disgorges his winding water in a roaring flood; those form the sacred citadel of Hybla, and those dwelling near Aitna, where the rock is alight and kettles of fire boil up the hot flare of Typhaon’s bed; those who scattered their houses along the beetling brow of Peloros and the island ground of sea-resounding Pachynos; and Sicilian Arethusa, where after his wandering travels Alpheios creeps proud of his Pisan chaplet – he crosses the deep like a highway, and draws his water, the slave of love, unwetted, over the surface of the sea, for he carries a burning fire warm through the cold water. After these Phaunos came, leaving the firesealed Pelorian plain of threepeak Sicily the rocky, whom Circe bore embraced by Cronion of the Deep, Circe the witch of many poisons, Aietas’s sister, who dwelt in the deepshadowed cells of a rocky palace. (Nonnos, Dionysiaka 13.309-332)

Hybla is named after a powerful indigenous goddess of the island:

By the chariot of Gelon stands an ancient Zeus holding a scepter which is said to be an offering of the Hyblaeans. There were two cities in Sicily called Hybla, one surnamed Gereatis and the other Greater, it being in fact the greater of the two. They still retain their old names, and are in the district of Catana. Greater Hybla is entirely uninhabited, but Gereatis is a village of Catana, with a sanctuary of the goddess Hyblaea which is held in honor by the Sicilians. The people of Gereatis, I think, brought the image to Olympia. For Philistus, the son of Archomenides, says that they were interpreters of portents and dreams, and more given to devotions than any other foreigners in Sicily. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 5.23.6)

The Galeotae were descended from Galeos:

That is, “the lizard,” a son of Apollo and Themisto, the daughter of the Hyperborean king Zabius. In pursuance of an oracle of the Dodonean Zeus, Galeus emigrated to Sicily, where he built a sanctuary to his father Apollo. The Galeotae, a family of Sicilian soothsayers, derived their origin from him. (Aelian, V. H. xii. 46; Cic. de Dixin. 1.20; Steph. Byz. s. v. galeôtai. The principal seat of the Galeatae was the town of Hybla, which was hence called Galeôtis, or as Thucydides (vi. 62.) writes it, Geleatis.

Dionysos, too, has a saurian aspect.

Kôlôtês (Gecko): Spotted lizard. Also an epithet of Dionysos. (Suidas s.v. Κωλωτης)

Which, in case you’re curious, is why the prophet Jim Morrison shouts, “I am the Lizard King! I can do anything!” during his dithyrambic Celebration of the Lizard.

One thought on “Mysteries of the bees and lizards

  1. Reptiles in and of themselves are pretty bacchic. Some of our most primal features come from them. Plus they are pretty much in between our heritage as land creatures and as water creatures (amphibians being more so on the water side) making them liminal and chthonic.


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