Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Dog Days of Summer: Named After a Star Canine


For most of us, the term “dog days of summer” needs no further explanation. In our mind’s eye we see an English bulldog lying on a patch of grass in the park, its eyes rolling back into its head and its once insouciant smile now a perplexed smirk as a foot-long pink tongue with black splotches lolls rhythmically in and out of its sagging maw.

But it is not for our fine furry friends that the dog days are named at all. It is for the rising of Orion in the final week of July and the first weeks of August just before sunrise along with his faithful dog, represented by the star Sirius, otherwise known as the dog star. This celestial pairing of Orion rising just before the sun was first noticed in North Africa and the Mediterranean, and something akin to the term "dog days of summer" began to appear in Egyptian and Roman writing in the centuries leading up to the Common Era.

While the view is decidedly different in the US, the timing of those days when you’re walking in cement shoes is identical in our part of the northern hemisphere, and we know it quite commonly by the term, "dog days of summer." We don’t see Orion do his morning routine from our vantage point, first heralding and then handing off the day to the sun, but we don’t really need to. We have our dogs.