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.


Arseneau, Mary. 2004. Recovering Christina Rossetti: Female Community and Incarnational Poetics (Basingstoke: Palgrave).

Browning, Robert. 1991. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning, vol. 4 (ed. Ian Jack, Rowena Fowler, and Margaret Smith; Oxford: Clarendon Press).

Browning, Robert. 1995. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning, vol. 4 (ed. Ian Jack and Robert Ingles?eld; Oxford: Clarendon Press). Doi:

Chadwick, Owen. 1960. The Mind of the Oxford Movement (Stanford: Stanford University Press).

Cheeke, Stephen. 2016. Trans?guration: The Religion of Art in Nineteenth-Century Literature Before Aestheticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Doi:

Dante. 2012. The Divine Comedy. Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso (trans. and introduced by Robin Kirkpatrick; London: Penguin Books).

Field, Michael. 2009. Michael Field, The Poet: Published and Manuscript Materials (ed. Marion Thain and Ana Parejo Vadillo; Plymouth: Broadview).

Hanson, Ellis. 1997. Decadence and Catholicism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Hollingsworth, Cristopher. 2001. Poetics of the Hive: The Insect Metaphor in Literature (Iowa: University of Iowa Press).

Homer. 1924. The Iliad (trans. A.T. Murray; rev. William F. Wyatt; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). Doi:

Humphries, Simon. 2007. 'The Uncertainty of Goblin Market', Victorian Poetry 45.4: 391-413. Doi:

Leighton, Angela. 2010. 'Tennyson's Hum', The Tennyson Research Bulletin 9.4: 315-29.

Lloyd. 1855. Lloyd's Illustrated Newspaper, 5 April 1855 (London: Edward Lloyd).

Milton, John. 1998. Paradise Lost (ed. Alistair Fowler; London: Longman, 2nd edn).

Murray, Rachel. 2017. 'Beelines: Joyce's Apian Aesthetics', Humanities 6.2 (42). Online: Doi:

Nestrick, William V. 1966. 'Robert Browning: The Maker-See', The English Journal 55.6: 682-89. Doi:

Newlyn, Lucy. 1986. Coleridge, Wordsworth, and the Language of Allusion (Oxford: Clarendon Press).

Paton, W.R. 1916-18. The Greek Anthology (5 vols.; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Pindar. 1997. Nemean Odes, Isthmian Odes, Fragments (trans. William H. Race; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). Doi:

Pliny the Elder. 1940. Natural History, vol. III, Books 8-11 (trans. H. Rackham; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Punch. 1856. 4 October 1856 (London: Bradbury & Evans).

Ransome, Hilda M. [1937] 2004. The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore ([London: George Allen & Unwin]; New York: Dover Publications).

Ricks, Christopher. 1989. Tennyson (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2nd edn). Doi:

Rossetti, Christina. 2001. The Complete Poems (ed. R.W. Crump and Betty S. Flowers; London: Penguin).

Shaw, Marion. 1988. Alfred Lord Tennyson (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf).

Tennyson, Alfred. 1987. The Poems of Alfred Tennyson (ed. Christopher Ricks; 3 vols.; London: Longman, 2nd edn).

Thain, Marion. 2007. 'Michael Field': Poetry, Aestheticism and the Fin de Siècle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Doi:

Theocritus. 2015. Theocritus, Moschus, Bion (trans. Neil Hopkinson; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Virgil. 1986. Aeneid 7-12, The Minor Poems (trans. H.R. Fairclough; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Virgil. 1999. Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid Books 1-6 (trans. H.R. Fairclough; rev. G.P. Goold; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Whaler, James. 1932. 'Animal Simile in Paradise Lost', PMLA 47.2: 534-53. Doi:

Wilson, Bee. 2004. The Hive: The Story of the Honeybee and Us (London: John Murray).

Wright, Jane. 2013. 'Browning's Honeycomb', Essays in Criticism 63.3: 275-97. Doi:

Wright, Jane. 2015. 'The Princess and the Bee', The Cambridge Quarterly 44.3: 251-73. Doi:



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

Similar Articles

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.