(See what I did there? It’s not a spelling error- it will be important later)
This is pretty much the gist of most conversations happening in the City today- and what we’ll be sounding like over the next few days:
We are Canadian after all. We like to
grouse complain talk about the weather.
I was party to a conversation the other day- the subject being the projected heat wave that we are now experiencing- that referenced the Dog Days of summer and the dog-like laziness that tends to accompany the high temps. The speaker seemed to think that the ‘Dog Days’ were so named because of a connection with the inaction of domesticated doggies (and the humans who love them) when the weather is super-crazy-hot-and-steamy.
It’s a logical assumption. Smart dogs (and the humans who love them) DO lie around doing not much of anything when the mercury gets up there. Today it actually hurts to breathe since the air is so thick- and I’m not walking around in a fur coat and without sweat glands. Can’t blame the puppies for lazing about.
Really though, the description of the hazy summer days of July and August (here in the Northern Hemisphere) is a reference to Sirius, the Dog Star, which is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major. The Dog Days were those weeks in which Sirius rose just before sunrise.
Sirius is the hunting dog and companion of Orion- the gigantic hunter and hero of Greek mythology who was raised to the stars to became a constellation by no lesser god than the Big Guy himself, Zeus. The rising of Sirius that heralded the beginning of the hot and dry summer was also seen as the cause of plants wilting, men weakening and women becoming, um, randy.
The star twinkled in its brightness, and these emanations were thought to be the source of the malignant happenings down here on Earth. Anyone suffering from the effects of Sirius was said to be star-struck (two-for-one word origin stories today!) and people offered sacrifices to Sirius and Zeus asking for cooling breezes and the alleviation of the nasty influence of the Dog Star.
Romans also sacrificed dogs at the beginning of the Dogs Days (July 23rd or 24th to August 23rd or 24th) to appease the raging Sirius who was thought to cause the heat and dry conditions.
In Egypt, the star was called Sopdet, and during the period of the Middle Kingdom the calendar was based on the day that it became visible just before sunrise- which occurred around the time of the annual flooding of the Nile and the Summer Solstice. The return of Sirius (after an absence of 70 days from the sky) marked the return of Isis from the Underworld- a key motif in Middle Kingdom mythology.
The perception that the Dog Days were all about icky happenings and lassitude and madness has persisted in the Western World into contemporary times. The 1975 Oscar winning film Dog Day Afternoon tells the story of a disastrous bank robbery that happens on an August afternoon. As one thing after another goes wrong, the ill will of the Dog Star can certainly be felt.
I just had a visit from my favourite Canis Minor (an hilarious pug named Cosmo who should sirius-ly have a constellation named after him) and we agreed that being outside during these here Dog Days that we have happening at the mo’ is something best avoided if possible.
Mythological word/phrase origins are fun.
Heatstroke/dehydration is not.
Stay cool, People.
Evade the wrath of Sirius and keep from being star-struck if at all possible.
Although I have no mythological basis upon which to make the assertion, I’m thinking that a coldcold beer is the best contemporary preventative measure to stave off malignant starshine.
Will give it a go anyway.