Beekeeping goes back throughout history and was an art that was closely related to goddess worship in the ancient world. Bees are a matriarchal society, closely related to the feminine.
MELISSA – “bee” was the title given to Aphrodite’s high priestess at the honeycomb-shrine of Mount Eryx, where the Goddess’s fetish was a golden honeycomb. Pythagoreans perceived the hexagon as an expression of the spirit of Aphrodite whose sacred number was six. She worshipped bees as her sacred creatures because they understood how to create perfect hexagons in their honeycomb. In Her temple at Eryx, the priestesses were melissae, “bees” and the Goddess herself was entitled Melissa, the Queen Bee.
Seeking to understand nature’s secrets through geometry, the Pythagoreans meditated on the endless triangular lattice, all sixty-degree angles, that results from extending the sides of all hexagons in the honey comb diagram until their lines meet in the centers of adjacent hexagons. It seemed to them a revelation of the underlying symmetry of the cosmos.
The bee was usually looked upon as a symbol of the feminine potency of nature, because while creating a magical elixir, known for its preservation properties, they were also pollinating flowers, increasing plant fertility, and abundance.
The origin of Melissa comes from the ancient Hittite word Melita which means honey. The meaning of the word has shifted into honey bee in Greek. Moreover, the pronunciation has changed to Melissa.
In Greek mythology, perhaps reflecting Minoan culture, Melissa raised the infant Zeus in Crete, nursing him with goat’s-milk and honey. In later myth she was given a father, Melissus of Crete.
In Greek mythology, Melisseus (“bee-man”), the father of the nymphs Adrasteia and Ide (or Aega, according to Hyginus) who nursed the infant Zeus on Crete, was the eldest and leader of the nine Kuretes of Crete. They were chthonic daimones of Mount Ida, who clashed their spears and shields to drown out the wails of infant Zeus, whom they received from the Great Goddess, Rhea, his mother. The infant-god was hidden from his cannibal father and was raised in the cave that was sacred to the Goddess (Da) celebrated by the Kuretes, whose name it bore and still bears. The names of the two daughters of Melisseus, one called the “inevitable” (Adrasteia) and the other simply “goddess” (Ida, de) are names used for the Great Mother Rhea herself.
The Dionysiaca of Nonnus, learned and accurate in spite of its late date, elaborates and gives all nine names of the Kuretes. The infant god was fed on milk and honey, the milk of the goat-nymph Amaltheia. Melisseus is simply another form of Melissus, also a Cretan “honey-man,” remembered by later mythographers as a “king of Crete.”
Fermented honey, an entheogen that was the gift of the Goddess, preceded the knowledge of wine in Aegean culture. These honey-kings consorting with the Goddess will have combined their position of authority with a sacral role, but modern interpreters would not follow Robert Graves in asserting that Melliseus “Adrasteia and Io’s reputed father, is really their mother, Melissa— the goddess as Queen-bee, who annually killed her male consort.”
When he came to maturity, Zeus rewarded his nymph nurses with the horn of Amaltheia, the cornucopia or horn of plenty that is always full of food and drink. Callimachus’ Hymn to Zeus, full of witty and learned detail on the god’s infancy, is at pains to show by etymologies that the mythic figures and geographical features obtained their names, and thus their very identities, through their participation in Zeus’ early life.
A less Olympian-minded culture might have suggested that the horn was not actually Zeus’ to give, and that it belonged already to the ancient and fertile Minoan-Mycenean nymphs of Crete.
In a mythic fragment that explains the connection of early Cretan culture with the island of Rhodes as deriving from Crete, Diodorus Siculus briefly relates that five of the Kuretes sailed from Crete to the Chersonnese (peninsula) opposite Rhodes, with a notable expedition, expelled the Carians who dwelt there, and settling down in the land divided it into five parts, each of them founding a city, which he named after himself. Triopas, one of the sons of Helios and Rhodos herself, who was a fugitive because of the murder of his brother Tenages, fled there and was purified of the murder by Melisseus.