A minor god in Greek mythology, which we read largely through Athenian writers, Aristaeus or Aristaios (Greek: Ἀρισταῖος), "ever close follower of the flocks", was the culture hero credited with the discovery of many useful arts, including bee-keeping; he was the son of Apollo and the huntress Cyrene. Aristeus ("the best") was a cult title in many places: Boeotia, Arcadia, Ceos, Sicily, Sardinia, Thessaly, and Macedonia; consequently a set of "travels" was imposed, connecting his epiphanies in order to account for these widespread manifestations.
If Aristaeus was a minor figure at Athens, he was more prominent in Boeotia, where he was "the pastoral Apollo" and was linked to the founding myth of Thebes by marriage with Autonoë, daughter of Cadmus, the founder. Aristaeus may appear as a winged youth in painted Boeoptian pottery, similar to representations of the Boreads, spirits of the North Wind.
According to Pindar's ninth Pythian Ode and Apollonius' Argonautica (II.522ff), Cyrene despised spinning and other womanly arts and instead spent her days hunting, but, in a prophecy he put in the mouth of the wise centaur Chiron, Apollo would spirit her to Libya and make her the foundress of a great city, Cyrene, in a fertile coastal plain. When Aristaeus was born, Pindar sang, Hermes took him to be raised on nectar and ambrosia and be made immortal by Gaia. The Myrtle-nymphs taught him useful arts and mysteries, how to curdle milk for cheese, how to tame the Goddess's bees and keep them in hives, and how to tame the wild oleaster and make it bear olives. Thus he became the patron god of cattle, fruit trees, hunting, husbandry and bee-keeping. He also taught humanity dairy skills (including cheesemaking) and the use of nets and traps in hunting.
When he was grown, he sailed from Libya to Boeotia, where he was inducted into further mysteries in the cave of Chiron the centaur. In Boeotia, he was married to Autonoë and became the father of the ill-fated Actaeon, who inherited the family passion for hunting, to his ruin, and of Macris, who nursed the child Dionysus.
"Aristaios" ("the best") is an epithet rather than a name
Full article ▸