Cretan Honey – A treasure of Myth and Folklore

by Nikos Volitakis

Since ancient times, thyme honey has been used for its beneficial properties. In our time, scientific studies have shown that it has strong antimicrobial, antiseptic and antifungal action, effectively preventing the viability of a wide range of resistant microbes and pathogenic fungi. The high nutritional value and strong health protection properties of thyme honey, make it a biofunctional food, which when in our diet, offers health, toning and protection from disease.

Although ancient civilizations did not have the means to discover the full range of useful properties of honey, we often come across it in texts, fictions, and medicines of the past. Here are some of the references we found about it.

As early as the Protopalatial Period (1900 - 1750 BC), Crete had an intimate relationship with honey, as excavations around the palace of Malia and the discovery of the bee pendant suggest.

In the days of the Minoan civilization, honey was used in rituals, as it was believed that the Great Mother of Mother Goddess was related to bees. As a symbol of the Mother Goddess, bees represent the mutual support and fertility.

According to myth, when Rhea gave birth to god Zeus, she concealed him in mount Ide and without the knowledge of Kronos (father of Zeus), entrusted his rearing to the Kouretes of Mount Ide. Kouretes bore him off to a cave where they gave him over to the Nymphai (Melissa and Amaltheia), with the command that they should minister to his every need. The Nymphai nurtured the child on a mixture of honey and milk and gave him upbringing at the udder of a goat, named Amaltheia.

Melissa and Amaltheia were daughters of the first King of Crete Melissaeus, the rustic demi-god of honey and the art of beekeeping.

Later, the Greeks believed that a baby whose lips would be touched by a bee, would become a great poet or speaker, as well as that the food and drink of the gods of Olympus, Nektar & Ambrosia, was made according to a recipe with honey as the main ingredient.

According to scientific findings, bees continued to play an important role in the lives and beliefs of many people living around the Mediterranean Sea, even during the Roman Empire period.

One of the most common beliefs at the time, was that bees convey messages, as servants of the gods and a swarm of moving bees should be avoided at all costs.