The Tears of Re: Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt

The Tears of Re: Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt

The Tears of Re: Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt

The Tears of Re: Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt


According to Egyptian mythology, when the ancient Egyptian sun god Re cried, his tears turned into honey bees upon touching the ground. For this reason, the honey bee was sacrosanct in ancient Egyptian culture. From the art depicting bees on temple walls to the usage of beeswax as a healing ointment, the honey bee was a pervasive cultural motif in ancient Egypt because of its connection to the sun god Re. Gene Kritsky delivers the first book to examine the relationship between the honey bee and ancient Egyptian culture, through the lenses of linguistics, archeology, religion, health, and economics. Kritsky delves into ancient Egypt's multifaceted society, and traces the importance of the honey bee in everything from death rituals to trade. In doing so, Kritsky brings new evidence to light of how advanced and fascinating the ancient Egyptians were. This richly illustrated work appeals to a broad range of interests. For archeology lovers, Kritsky delves into the archeological evidence of Egyptian beekeeping and discusses newly discovered tombs, as well as evidence of manmade hives. Linguists will be fascinated by Kritsky's discussion of the first documented written evidence of the honeybee hieroglyph. And anyone interested in ancient Egypt or ancient cultures in general will be intrigued by Kritsky's treatment of the first documented beekeepers. This book provides a unique social commentary of a community so far removed from modern humans chronologically speaking, and yet so fascinating because of the stunning advances their society made. Beekeeping is the latest evidence of how ahead of their times the Egyptians were, and the ensuing narrative is as captivating as every other aspect of ancient Egyptian culture.


As a teenager, I happened upon some honeycomb that had fallen out of a tree near my home in south Florida. I collected the larvae and pupae from the sealed brood cells, placed them into test tubes, and watched them develop into mature bees—an incredible metamorphosis that inspired my lifelong interest in bees and apiculture. My introduction to Egypt began just a few months before I discovered that comb, when I read a book on evolution. The book discussed Bishop Ussher’s chronology of the Bible; he calculated that the world was created in 4004 BCE, and that Noah’s flood occurred in 2348 BCE. That seemed rather recent to me, so I began to explore ancient Egyptian history to see how it fit with Ussher’s chronology. It turned out that the pyramids were built before Ussher’s date for the flood, which seemed, to say the least, a bit surprising. To make sure that was true, I started reading a variety of books on Egyptian history and soon was captivated by Egyptian art, mythology, and technology.

My Egyptophilia was reinforced when the Tutankhamun exhibit toured the United States while I was an entomology graduate student at the University of Illinois. Between classes and research, I viewed the exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago and attended several presentations at the University of Illinois Art Department on the history of Egyptology, and I made a promise to myself that I would go to Egypt within 10 years.

That promise came to fruition in only five years, when I received a Fulbright Scholarship to teach entomology at Minya University in Upper Egypt for the academic year of 1981–1982. During my year in Egypt, I visited 94 archaeological sites and even got locked inside an Egyptian tomb during a sandstorm.

In addition to exploring Egypt’s tombs and temples, I studied the role of insects, especially beetles, flies, and bees, in ancient Egyptian culture. After my return to the United States, I read Dr. Eva Crane’s (1983) wonderful book The Archaeology of Beekeeping, which opened my mind to the field of apicultural . . .

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