Memories, Thoughts, Libraries, and Honey Bees

In her Book of Memory, Mary Carruthers discusses the trope of the bee as a gatherer of knowledge:

Historically, trained memory is linked metaphorically to a library. The books in a library are likened to memories and to birds and bees in their celled coops and hives. Early papyrus rolls were kept in shelving against a wall, in which the horizontal shelves were subdivided by verticals into pigeon-holes (nidi, foruli, loculamenta). . . .

The earliest surviving example of the metaphoric association of beehive and bookcase is offered by Longinus, and Quintilian compares the orator, "who makes eloquence from many arts and disciplines, to a bee producing honey." Similarly, in a frequently used "metaphor for study," the bee collecting nectar and pollen from flowers and later storing it in the hive's "cella," is likened to the reader who gathers knowlege from books and stores it "in the 'cella' of memory" (Mary Carruthers, The Book of Memory. [Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990], pp. 36-38).

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