What are the dog days of summer?

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The dog days of summer begin today, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, and run until Aug. 11. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was a time of heat, illness and discord among people.

But why are these dog days?

Well, the answer begins with a dog — Orion’s big hunting dog, the Romans believed. Laelaps, the dog that never failed to catch what it hunted, the Greeks believed. No matter the name, the brightest star of the night sky marks the dog’s nose or shoulder, depending on the illustration. The star is Sirius, the dog star. The 40 days that follow the sighting of Sirius rising near sunrise is the start of the dog days of summer.

The combination of bright star, bright sun and hot summer days lead to this portion of the summer being called the “dog days” of summer. It is a time of unstable, malevolent forces.  The Greeks described anyone suffering from the ill effects of Sirius as “star-struck.”

The Greek epic poet Homer describes Sirius as he tells of Achilles’ approach to Troy:dog_star

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.

The Grateful Dead sang it another way in “Lost Sailor”:

Compass card is spinning
Helm is swingin’ to and fro
Ooh, where’s the dog star
Ooh, where’s the moon
You’re lost sailor
You’ve been too long at sea.

Sirius can be seen from almost every inhabited part of the earth except the far north. Cultures far-flung both in time and geography have taken note of it:

  • It foretold the flooding of the Nile in Ancient Egypt.
  • Chinese astronomers called it the star of the celestial wolf.
  • The Cherokee paired Sirius with Antares as a dog-star guardian of either end of the Path of Souls that led to the afterlife.
  • Branches of the Pawnee of Nebraska called it the Wolf Star or the Coyote Star.
  • The Alaskan Inuit called it Moon Dog.
  • In India, the star is sometimes known as Svana, the dog of Prince Yudhisthira, who with the dog and his four brothers set out on a pilgrimage to the Himalayas to find the kingdom of heaven. The brothers one by one fall to their deaths, weighted down by sin.  Only the pure Yudhistira and Svana reach the gates of heaven. While the gatekeeper, Lord Indra, welcomes the prince, he won’t allow the dog to come in. Pointing out that the dog has faithfully followed him to this point, Yudhistira says that without the dog he would forsake heaven. This is what Lord Indra wanted to hear; the dog, it turns out was dharma.

Scientists say that Sirius will be gradually coming closer to our solar system — and growing brighter — over the next 60,000 years.

We at FidoUniverse see it as a time to be sure your dog stays cool.