Heat being released from the soil as water from the hose hits it or if you’re lucky enough, the rain, so intense one can even smell the warm earth…..leaves of plants wilting in the midday heat just to have less exposure to the scorching sun….the sweat on the gardeners brow as we try to pull just one more weed before heading inside to cool off….When one thinks about the dog days of summer this is what conjures up in the mind, as well as a lazy old dog lying on a shady porch trying to get out of the scorching heat. That sounds logical enough of an explanation, especially with this heat we’ve been having, but the truth of the matter is, there’s much more to the phrase than that and it doesn’t have much to do with heat at all.
“Dog days”, one might logically think refers to our canine friends, but it is not of an earthly canine that the phrase comes from, instead it’s a celestial one. The constellation of Canis Major, hence the dog reference, and to be more precise the star Sirius of this constellation.
You see, every year around the months of July and August, Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, reappears in the eastern sky in early morning just before the sun rises. She has been missing from the sky for around 70 days when she was last seen in the western night sky. This is called a heliacal rising. We now know the reason for her being missing is because of the orbit of the earth but to ancient civilizations, the reappearance was a sign of the gods. To Egypt, the star was associated with Isis who was the mother goddess. The reappearance also coincided with the season of the rising of the Nile river, which when flooding would be essential to their agriculture. The reappearnce of the star was also used for their calendar and to mark their new year.
The Greek and Romans thought that since Sirius was so close to rising with the sun at this time, that was the reason for the hot weather. Sun and bright star……. they thought they were doubling up on us, I guess! They also believed that the sun lighted the physical world and Sirius lighted the spiritual world.
Throughout history, many civilizations and native people associated this bright Sirius star as a wolf or dog star in the night sky and used the star as a navigation aid and much more. Today, we rely on technology to guide us and it seldom crosses our minds to look up at the wonders of the universe for such aid or inspiration as our forefathers did. But it would serve us well to not forget the stories behind these old sayings!