The Dog Days Of Summer – why dog?

Narrated from: Curious Dog Facts

"Seven dog-days we let pass, naming Queens in Glenmacnass"
J. M. Synge

Sweating your way through the dog days of summer right now? Hopefully you have air-conditioning.

The dog days of summer are the hottest part of the summer, and even humans want to pant with their tongues hanging out! However, why are the dog days named after dogs? We all know that dogs are hot, but many people actually believe that the dog days are so called because dogs appear lazy and lethargic in this hot period (don’t we all?) – Hence phrases such as “dog tired”, etc.

However, this is not true. As it turns out this name is one of the many legacies left to us by the Ancient Romans.

People have always gazed upon the dark depths of the night sky, and have never failed to follow the patterns of the stars. In our part of the world, we still keep the Roman names of many of the star constellations – including Canis Major, the Big Dog.

The brightest star in Canis Major is Sirius – ever heard of it? It has been known as the Dog Star from ancient times, and plays a significant role in many cultural systems, because it is the brightest of them all.

In fact, Sirius is so bright that the Romans believed that its heat reached Earth itself! Coincidentally, in the summer Sirius rises and sets with the sun – and so it seemed logical to the Romans that the star added its heat to the sun’s, creating unbearable heat. They were quick to come up with the name diēs caniculārēs; dog days.

Back then they used to last from July 24 to August 24, but later on it was disputed when the hottest days of the summer are, with different sources putting them between July 3 and September 5.

Nowadays, the correlation between Sirius and the hottest part of the summer is lost – after all, in different parts of the world people see different stars in the sky. But still, dogs hold their own place in the calendar, and the dog days keep getting mentioned in many great poems and novels.

Perhaps we dog lovers are best suited to respond to this quote from “The Bar Sinister” by Richard Harding Davis. The main character, who is a street dog, says:

“…but when the hot days come, I think they might remember that those are the dog days, and leave a little water outside in a trough..."

We may not have troughs, but we still have bowls and merciful hearts – even when it’s dog hot!

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