Antique representation of the constellation of Canis Major with Sirius, the Dog Star
The Dog Days of Summer
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"In the mangrove swamps
Where the python romps
There is peace from twelve till two
Lie around and snooze
For there's nothing else to do
In Bengal to move at all
is seldom, if ever done
But mad dogs and Englishmen
Go out in the midday sun!"
~ Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Noel Coward, 1931
Seriously, folks! Are the swelteringly hot Dog Days of Summer wearing you down? Well, they are thankfully, coming to a close. The hot, sultry days of summer, known colloquially as the Dog Days and reckoned historically as the period marked by the rising of the star system Sirius, were connected by ancient Greek astrology with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck! This allegedly oppressive period runs approximately anywhere from July through September depending on latitude, canon law, or other liturgical or official pronouncements, though today July 3 to August 11 are often used as bounding dates, ending rather than beginning with or centering on the reappearance of Sirius to the night sky. The Greeks associated the appearance of this star with many different ill effects and believed it caused plants to wilt, men to weaken, and women to become excessively amorous! Anyone suffering such effects was said to be "astroboletos" or "star-struck". 🐕 ⭐
Today marks the end of the Dog Days of summer, a sultry part of the summer, occurring during the period that Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at the same time as the sun. Now often reckoned from July 3 to August 11, the Dog Days have come to mean a period marked by lethargy, inactivity, or indolence.
Sirius is a multiple star system and the brightest star in the Earth's night sky. With a visual apparent magnitude of −1.46, it is almost twice as bright as Canopus, the next brightest star. The name "Sirius" is derived from the Ancient Greek (Seirios), meaning "glowing" or "scorcher".
Also known colloquially as the "Dog Star", reflecting its prominence in its constellation, Canis Major, the rising of Sirius marked the flooding of the Nile in Ancient Egypt and the "dog days" of summer for the ancient Greeks, while to the Polynesians in the Southern Hemisphere, the star marked winter and was an important reference for their navigation around the Pacific Ocean.
The ancient Greeks observed that the appearance of Sirius heralded the hot and dry summer, and feared that it caused plants to wilt, men to weaken, and women to become aroused! Due to its brightness, Sirius was noted to twinkle more in the unsettled weather conditions of early summer. To Greek observers, this signified possible emanations with a malignant influence. Anyone suffering its effects was said to be "astroboletos" or "star-struck".
Because of its association with the constellation of Orion, as the Hunter's dog, the Ancient Greeks thought that Sirius's emanations could also affect dogs adversely, making them behave abnormally during the "dog days," the hottest days of the summer. The excessive panting of dogs in hot weather was thought to place them at risk of desiccation and disease.
Homer, in the Iliad, references the association of "Orion's dog" (Sirius) with oncoming heat, fevers and evil, in describing the approach of Achilles toward Troy:
Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.
For more on the many cultural and symbolic associations of the rising of the Dog Star, click the constellations, showing Orion the hunter and his dogs.