According to Stephen Fry in his book Mythos, the story in how the honeybee obtained her sting is rather unusual. It begins on the day of Zeus’s wedding to Hera, a wedding which all of creation were greatly anticipating. However, it was not just the wedding formalities that was causing the excitement. Zeus had announced that whoever could devise the most interesting and original wedding dish would be granted the opportunity to ask him any favour they pleased. Immortal creatures were particularly excited for the chance to have an audience with King of the Gods. Zeus and Hera were presented every compilation of taste imaginable; salty, sweet, bitter, sour and savoury. When the newlyweds began tasting the dishes, Zeus came across a small amphora filled to the top with a amber-coloured sticky sweet smelling goo, to which Zeus mistook for pine resin.
This sticky goo was something the Gods had never tasted before, it was “gloopy without being unguent, slow-moving without being stodgy, sweet without being cloying and perfumed with a flavour that drove the senses wild”. When Hera tasted the sweet-smelling goo the scent of the loveliest meadows and mountain herbs danced along her taste buds. Melissa, the creator of the delightful treat told the gods it was called honey.
The Gods shared a knowing look and agreed that no additional tasting was needed, as they had found their winner. Zeus announced to all that the winner of his task was Melissa with her honey. Melissa was very small and as she flew up to the winners podium she looked even smaller next to Zeus’s face.
Now was Melissa’s chance to request the favour from the King of the Gods. She buzzed her story to the God, in which she explained how difficult it was to collect nectar deep from within the flowers and that only a tiny amount could be sucked up at any one time. That the flowers were such long distances from each other that she spent most of her time buzzing from one to the other before returning home to deposit the nectar. Unfortunately, it was here that her story took a darker turn, Melissa frustratingly expressed her disapproval to other animals in the woods that were driven with greed to the irresistible smell of her honey. That despite only being able to make small amounts of honey each day, that it was stolen the next because others could not resist. She buzzed that the little amphora had taken her four and a half weeks to produce and that she had had enough of her precious honey being robbed. Her favour was to be presented with a weapon she could use against others, something like the scorpion’s deadly sting or the snakes venomous bite. With this she went as far to ask that her weapon would be fatal to anyone she chose to use it against.
With her rant over Zeus grew angry. He was furious this little insect had asked him such a thing. He declared that her honey should be shared for everyone to try and that she was being utterly selfish in her attempt to monopolise this sweet delicious food. Melissa outraged with Zeus’s refusal couldn’t control her annoyance at the God which only angered Zeus further still. In his final response on the matter he declared that she will be a Queen of a colony of workers that will aid her in gathering honey. However, Greek Gods were never truly honourable in their wishes unless it benefitted them directly. In addition to her swarm of workers she was also granted a fatal sting, but this sting would be fatal to her or her colony if they ever used it on another. It was from then on that the honeybees’ was barbed; meaning that if their weapon was ever to be “deployed” that the individual that used their sting would not survive the attack.
This bitter sweet ending of Melissa becomes ironic when you wonder why this “fatal sting” was never cursed on the wasp, but again according to Greek Mythology, wasps never made selfish, hubristic demands to the gods.
On the last note of this mythological story of how the honeybee got her sting, the order to which honeybees belong is called Hymenoptera, which in Greek means ‘wedding wings’ and that Melissa is still a Greek word for the honeybee.
Reference: This blog post is an adaption of “Mythos” by Stephen Fry