By Cathy Johnson
You’ve probably heard this expression before, just as I have. And maybe you, too, assumed that it referred to those days in summer that are so hot that even the dogs lie around panting in the shade. Well, surprise. The saying does refer to those “hot, sultry days of summer” which, according to one dictionary can be anywhere from late July through early September in the northern hemisphere.
But, as usual, there is more to this saying than we suppose. It goes back, way back in time, actually as far back as the Greeks and Romans. Their astrologers noted that the “helical rising” of Sirius, the Dog Star, brought with it weather hot enough to produce fevers or even catastrophe. Homer’s The Iliad describes the rising of the star as being associated with war and disaster.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac pegs the traditional dates of the dog days precisely as the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, so theoretically we should be done with them. Not according to the weatherman or recent weather history.
Or maybe it’s just coincidence that once school is ready to start, the weather heats back up and makes some of that first month or so quite miserable. It is, after all, within the dictionary definition’s time span.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac also notes that the ancient Egyptians used the rising of Sirius as a “watchdog” for the annual flooding of the Nile.
And then, there’s this little rhyme:
Dog Days bright and clear
indicate a happy year.
But when accompanied by rain,
for better times our hopes are vain.
The “science” of delineating the period for the dog days may have changed as well, according to National Geographic Magazine. “The stars in the Earth’s sky shift independently of our calendar seasons,” so much so that in several millennia, the dog days won’t even fall in our summer.
Of course, we will still have those periods of hot, sultry weather, where even the leaves of the trees hang limply on their stems, offering no relief from the heat. The air will be heavy, even sticky, and we will retreat into air-conditioning, if we can, or simply long for the cool, crisp days of fall that are hopefully right around the corner.
But for the time being, while the temperatures are still up, and yes, even the dogs are lying around panting in the heat, think about those ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, who, without the benefit of either radar or even the Old Farmer’s Almanac, relied on the gods and the stars to control and change the weather.
An extra bowl of cold water for the dog, please, and a glass of iced tea for us, as we while our way through the last of the dog days of summer.