I received a very generous present this week from a part-Slovenian colleague. It was a replica of the decorated front board of a bee hive. By chance, the next day I welcomed a new Slovenian colleague, Vlasta, a translator, to the Committee and I mentioned the present and showed it to her. She, it transpired, had worked as a translator in the Slovenian press agency during Slovenia’s accession negotiations. I had forgotten (but did I know this?) that Slovenia has its own indigenous bee variety, the Carniolan bee, which is both docile and highly productive (see here, for example). Bees and honey have traditionally played a very important role in Slovenian culture, hence the painted hive front boards. Vlasta studied mine and then told me what the images were about, and I quote (Europe, endless! – and thank you, Guy and Vlasta!):
The picture is called “Pegam and Lambergar” and it depicts a duel between the mythical Slovenian hero Lambergar and a foreign soldier called Pegam.
The story comes from an old Slovenian folk poem, which says that heroic Lambergar was summoned by the Habsburg Emperor to Vienna to fight the fearless Pegam. As he was leaving Ljubljana his mother gave him advice on how to fight, warning him that Pegam would have three heads and that he should aim for the middle one. This explains the two little figures on the shoulders of one of the soldiers. As for the year depicted on the panel, this is usually the year when the illustration was made.
The folk poem is said to be based on historical facts from the 15th century, when the fight began for the legacy of the Counts of Cilli (Celje in Slovenian), one of the most distinguished magnate families of the then Habsburg monarchy, who had roots and territory in present-day Slovenia. They were initially vassals of the monarchy but were later elevated in rank and became so powerful that they threatened the interests of the Habsburgs. But as the male line of the Counts of Cilli died out, a war for their legacy broke out with the Habsburgs.
There was a Czech soldier called Jan Vitovec, who fought on the side of the descendants of the Counts of Cilli, and he is believed to be portrayed as the mighty Pegam. The character of the Slovenian hero Lambergar, on the other hand, is said to be based on a knight from a noble family called Lamberg from the then Carniola, which was a territory under the Habsburg monarchy and part of that territory is now Slovenia.
This is just one of the many motifs that could be found on traditional Slovenian beehive panels (some other can be seen at http://web.bf.uni-lj.si/jbozic/muzej/hivefron.html).