Britain must be the only country in the world where you can have a tropical storm, without the inconvenience of any hot, dry, sunny weather.
And we are in the Dog Days too…
Or maybe we’re not!
Traditionally the Dog Days signal the beginning of searing heat and sudden summer thunderstorms. They occur in high summer when the Dog Star, Sirius, rises above the horizon at dawn.
Sirius is the brightest star in Canis Major; the Big Dog that snaps at the heels of Orion the Hunter – one of the two constellations even numbskulls like me can recognise. The other is the Great Bear, Big Dipper or Plough as it is variously known.
Sirius was important to the ancient Egyptians as its appearance signalled the Nile’s annual flood and the return of fertility to the desert. They believed Orion was Osiris, the resurrected god of vegetation, returned to life by his wife, Isis, in the shape of a dog and jackal-headed Anubis, the god of embalming.
As the Dog Star is the brightest star in the night sky, the ancient Greeks thought it caused the sweltering summer heat. Its name, Sirius, is ancient Greek for ‘the scorcher’.
The Romans believed the Dog Star brought evil, caused wildfires, lethargy, fevers and madness in dogs. The writer Pliny the Elder in his Natural History claimed an increase in dog attacks during the Dog Days.
Superstitions regarding the Dog Days continued through history in the Northern hemisphere; no doubt a legacy of ancient Greece and Rome. In his book Clavis Calendaria (1813) John Brady analysed superstitions about the calendar.
He recorded during the Dog Days people used to believe the sea boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid. The violent heat caused men’s bodies to sweat as much at midnight as at midday and resulted in hysteria and frenzy. Fevers that gripped during the Dog Days made you sicker than at any other time of the year – yea, even unto death!
Having said all that: when are the Dog Days? And more importantly, when do they end? So we can all breathe a sigh of relief at having escaped calamity for another year.
For the ancient Romans the Dog Days occurred about 24 July to 24 August.
In Anglo-Saxon England, the Dog Days ran from 14 July to 5 September.
The 1559 ‘Book of Common Prayer’ says the Dog Days are 6 July to 16 August.
North America’s oldest continuously published periodical ‘The Old Farmer’s Almanac’ (founded in 1792) lists a traditional 40 day period from 3 July to 11 August.
There are couple problems trying to fix a date for the Dog Days.
- The more north you go, the later in the year the Dog Star rises.
- Due to the earth’s wobble on its axis, the constellations appear to rise slightly later every year… until after 2,160 years the next house of the zodiac comes up where the previous one used to be.
Hence the ‘Age of Aquarius’; when Aquarius replaces Pisces as the constellation appearing on the horizon at the spring equinox. But if you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry. It just means you’re not an old hippy like me.
In around another 11,000 years the Dog Star will rise in mid-winter.
Then the Dog Days will truly be over.
Blue skinned go-go dancers & exploding musicians
What more could a heart desire?