THE BLOG
10/27/2014 02:56 pm ET Updated Dec 27, 2014

Jupiter and the Bee

No matter how often we fall, the gift of wakeful effort allows us to find our way back to what is heartening and affirming, without denying the suffering we encounter. Still, the things that dishearten and drain us are always near, as near as all that is affirming. Here is one ancient story about sweetness and vengeance.

Jupiter and the Bee

Another insidious condition that drains us of all that is heartening is the murkiness of harboring resentments until they boil into vengeance. Of course, vengeance and spite are not new. Consider this ancient myth. A bee from Mount Hymettus, the queen of the hive, ascends to Olympus to present Jupiter with some honey fresh from her combs. Jupiter, delighted with the offering, promises to give whatever she would ask. She is quick to implore, "Give me, I pray thee, a sting, that if any mortal shall approach to take my honey, I may kill them." Jupiter is sorely displeased, but can't refuse his promise. Carefully, he answers the bee, "You shall have your request, but at the peril of your life. For if you use your sting, it shall remain in the wound you make, and then you will die from the loss of it."

This small but potent tale offers many choices. At what point do we consider the honey we make ours and when do we accept it as a gift that comes through our labor of being? If we think the honey ours, then like the queen of the hive, we can become obsessed with hoarding it and protecting it. If we accept the honey as a gift, then we're a carrier of a sweetness whose purpose is to be given. And what does this tale say of promises? Does Jupiter make his promise too soon? Is his trust in the queen of the hive misplaced? Though his deep cleverness reveals a truism about the cost of spite, which is more important: keeping his promise or keeping his response to the queen of the hive authentic? Different lives unfold from these choices. Not just among the gods, but in our ordinary lives.

Throughout history, the queen of the hive has taken many incarnations, both female and male. In truth, the bee from Hymettus possesses us each time we let the bottom of our hurt define the world. Then the law of spite will plague us. For whenever we let our sting remain in the wound, a part of us dies to life.

A Question to Walk With: What is your relationship to the honey, the sweetness you carry as a person, and what is your relationship to the stinger you carry?

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For more by Mark Nepo, click here.