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ROCCA, Della, M. l’abbé. Traité complet sur les abeilles, avec une méthode nouvelle de les gouverner, telle qu'elle se pratique à Syra.., Paris, De l'imprimerie de Monsieur, 1790.

Abbé Della Rocca was a Levantine priest, born in Istanbul. He lived in the Aegean for seventeen years, and served as vicar on Syros island for a long time. Della Rocca had a strong inclination towards agricultural tasks, and especially apiculture. He stayed in Italy twice in his lifetime, the first time in his youth, when he studied in that country for eight to nine years. Later on, when he was living in France, he studied the apicultural manuals written by French and German authors, as well as older and newer encyclopedias (editions of 1747, 1761 and 1783), as he notes in the introduction to his work.

Finally, he notes that “In Syros, we have an optimal method [of apiculture], different from those suggested by the authors, which are either impracticable, or poorly understood and put to practice... my inclination towards apiculture as well as my love for truth and for the educated public led me to compose this work”.

Della Rocca wrote a three-volume work of 1320 pages. He dedicates two hundred and nintey pages to Syros, accompanied by a few engravings, of uncommon and interesting subjects. He deals with the history, administration and economy of the island in twelve chapters. First, he offers interpretations on the phenomenon of the genius of the Greeks, which are followed by a general introduction on the Cyclades (climate, flora, fauna and famed products), and the special inclinations of the inhabitants.

Subsequently, Della Rocca deals with the geography of the island. In his historical overview, which shows the depth of his knowledge, he collates ancient testimonies and contemporary facts (place names, antiquities, products, longevity of the locals, legends etc.), and dedicates a whole chapter to an “astronomical monument on the island”, that is, Ferecydes' cave. Subsequently, Della Rocca presents the contemporary island, by citing and discussing extracts from the work of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1717). In a very polished narrative. The author constructs a comprehensive picture of the island, drawn by an insider. Descriptions alternate with personal views and evaluations. Thus, realities and behaviours are brought to life against the Cycladic landscape.

In Della Rocca's text, agricultural life as well as public and private life come alive as in few other texts. The fourth chapter deals with political and religious administration on the island, entering into details of, for example, inheritance issues, of which Della Rocca obviously had knowledge from personal experience. Della Rocca expands on the jurisdiction of bishops and governors and on the special favour shown by the king of France to the inhabitants. He enriches his descriptions with an abundance of examples, incidents and adventures, in an engaging and emotionally charged discourse. He exagerrates the merits of his fellow islanders, their valour, hospitality, gift for languages. He dedicates a whole chapter on language and its particularities, making comparisons, and highlighting difference, variation, similarity, observing the accents and admiring the rhetorical capacity of the speakers.

The work is completed by a description of agricultural techniques and the island's economy. Della Rocca touches on a wide array of subjects, such as: Preparation and cultivation of the fields, underground storing of the cereal crops, usage of seaweeds in the construction of houses and their roofs, making and transportation of wine, egg incubation (hens and pigeons), modes of chasing quails, diagnosis of disarticulation in children, the cure of icterus and streptococcus, preparation of fermenting age from chickpeas, drying of the figs etc.. There follows, in seven books and appoximately a thousand pages, the treatise on bees proper, in which Della Rocca presents the pioneering beehive model used by bee-keepers of the Aegean.

Della Rocca composed a text characterized both by erudition and fanaticism, a certain naivete and local pride. Nevertheless this is a useful treatise, not only for apiculturers but also for all who whish to study the history of Syros. However, it was little exploited by later travellers and authors, possibly because its title pointed to a specialized area of knowledge, that of apiculture, which held little appeal for the travellers of the following generations.

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou

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