Sirius: the Dog Star

Narrated from: Curious Dog Facts

Have you heard of Sirius? It is rather famous as the “Dog Star” – but why so?

Well, Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major – the Great Dog itself! But is that the only reason for Sirius to be known as the Dog Star?

Throughout history, Sirius has proven to be one of the most popular heavenly bodies. It is the brightest star in the sky, which makes it quite easy to discern. In fact, its name means “scorcher” in Ancient Greek. Sirius is so bright, that only by an accident was it discovered that Sirius had a companion star about the size of Earth – Sirius B.

Sirius has many names, and almost every civilization has a legend associated with it – for the ancient Egyptians for instance it was a doorway to the afterlife, the shining soul of Isis, and its annual appearance heralded the rise of holy Nile; the Chinese considered Sirius to be a bridge between heaven and hell; and so on.

However, all over the world Sirius is associated with dogs. 

The ancient Chinese viewed Sirius as a heavenly wolf; in Chaldea (present day Iraq), Sirius was called “The Dog Star that leads”; in Assyria, they believed that Sirius was the “Dog of the sun”; and in Akkadia, they named Sirius “The Dog Star of the sun”.

Of course, the most detailed Sirius myths hail from Ancient Greece. The Ancient Greeks believed that Canis Major (the Great Dog), was the hunting dog of Orion himself – when they looked to the sky they saw a dog standing on its hind legs, with Sirius held in its jaws.

Some Greek historians believe that Sirius was in fact the legendary dog Laelaps. Laelaps was a dog; so swift, that no prey could escape him, and who plays a part in many Greek legends. However, once Laelaps was sent after a fox that was so swift it was destined never to be caught. That created a paradox, since the fox could not be caught, but Laelaps always caught his prey. The god Zeus decided to find an elegant solution to the problem – he turned both beasts into stone, and placed Laelaps in the sky – without the elusive fox.

Neat story, eh? The Greeks probably had other Sirius myths as well – and every year, the heliacal rising of the star marked the beginning of the so-called “dog days” of summer.

The doggy aspects of Sirius are quite popular in modern culture as well. For instance did you know that the legendary “101 Dalmatians” (the book, not the movie) had a sequel? In this book all dogs of the world were bestowed with extraordinary power, while their human masters fell into a mysterious sleep. This all turned out to be the doing of the star Sirius, an extraterrestrial dog who offered the other canines a chance to travel to his home where they would be safe from the dangers of nuclear war on Earth, not to mention the whims and potential abuse of humans.

However, the dogs of Earth voted to remain with their human masters – for no matter how beautiful a Dog Star looks in the sky, a dog’s true place is in the loving embrace of a human!

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