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Keywords:

  • bees;
  • gender;
  • politics;
  • Renaissance;
  • science

Abstract

Insects have occupied the planet for over 400 million years, humans for a mere one million. Their impact on human development has been incalculable. They are likely to outlive us. This article explores selected cases in attitudes to the honeybee, an insect with a particularly intense history of interaction with humans, from the late fifteenth to the early seventeenth centuries, mainly drawn from England and Italy, but with forays into other parts of Europe. It is argued that the Renaissance of bees is a mixed phenomenon, characterized by the elaboration of ancient and medieval ideas about these creatures; a heightened tendency to moralize about human society in the light of them; and a new curiosity for understanding them better through direct observation. The study of attitudes to bees sheds light on religion, politics, science and gender during the Renaissance.