The Bees of Rome

Representing Social and Spiritual Transition in Victorian Poetry


  • Jane Wright University of Bristol



Bees, Virgil, Dante, Tennyson, Catholicism, Anglo-Catholicism, Browning, Christina Rossetti, Michael Field


In Book VI of the Aeneid, Virgil used bees to lgure human spirits in the Underworld. This was not the earliest association of bees with death and the afterlife, but it was the lrst such link in European literature. Virgil’s bees lgured those spirits who would become Aeneas’ descendants, future citizens of Rome. This moment in Pagan mythology had a remarkable literary afterlife in the work of (among others) Dante, Milton, Tennyson, Browning, C.G. Rossetti, and Michael Field, for each of whom (according to his or her religious faith) the bees were variously linked with Christ, Lucifer, France, Rome, the Saints, and both personal and national spiritual transition. Elucidating apian allusions in these poets’ works, I explain how the bees became poetical lgures for social and spiritual upheaval (at once dangerous and creative) and for the vital presence of the non-human (or angelic) in spiritual life.

Author Biography

Jane Wright, University of Bristol

Jane Wright is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Bristol, UK. She specializes in nineteenth-century British poetry and has published on a variety of authors, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold, and Oscar Wilde.


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How to Cite

Wright, J. (2020). The Bees of Rome: Representing Social and Spiritual Transition in Victorian Poetry. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 14(3), 395–411.



CLOSED-Special Issue - Bees and Honey in Religions