Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thursday Trivia: Dog Days of Summer

You guys probably know all about where this saying came from. Most of us have at least a general idea.  But we're hoping that we've dug up some interesting tidbits about its origin that might be new to you!

Yes, the phrase is linked to the brightest star in the night sky during summertime in the Northern Hemisphere: Sirius, the Dog Star. It's called the Dog Star because it's the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, which is Latin for 'Large Dog'.

It also happens to be the brightest star visible from Earth (if you discount our own sun, of course).

Sirius the Dog Star, to the left of the constellation Orion
photo courtesy nevets183, flickr Creative Commons 3.0

The Romans are usually credited with being the originators of the phrase “Dog Days” but the phrase was actually used by the Greeks prior to the time of Rome, and can be found in one of Aristotle's many works – Aristotle's Physics.

It was believed that Sirius added to the heat coming from our own sun and was responsible for the brutally hot days in July and August.

But if you want to find the first time the star and the dog are linked together, you have to travel an even greater distance back in time: try Egypt, circa 3,000 B.C.E.!

Egyptian hieroglyphs are the first known association of the star as a dog, though its reason has been lost in antiquity.

The one thing we do know is that, back in 3,000 BCE, the rising of Sirius in the morning sky occurred at the same time as sunrise. It also coincided with Egypt's summer solstice, which heralded the beginning of Egypt's new year.

Sirius slowly lost its "synch" with sunrise over the centuries due to a stellar phenomenon known as the precession of the equinoxes.

Fun in the sun! Photo by peyri, Creative Commons
What we didn't know until we researched this:  the Dog Days were considered to be evil days!

(Does anyone think that might have something to do with "evil" tempers brought on by sweltering temperatures?  Especially considering there wasn't a nice, friendly A/C unit in sight back then?)

A book written in 1813 entitled Clavis Calendaria references the Dog Days as a time when:
“the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.”

(oooh, we like the word 'phrensies'! That's Allie's new word to describe her state of mind every time Faraday pounces on her.)

A great way to cool off: a run by the sea
photo by arbyreed, Creative Commons
We also didn't know that the Dog Days were specific to actual calendar dates. Depending on who you asked, it spanned several weeks in July and August.

The Roman calendar had the Dog Days listed as running from July 24 through August 24.

Many modern European cultures still have the month-long period listed on their calendars in the same way.

Dog Days even made it into the Old Farmer's Almanac.

It lists the Dog Days from July 3rd to August 11th - a period of 40 days which coincides both with the ancient heliacal (or sunrise) rising of the star Sirius, and the days with the least rainfall in the Northern Hemisphere.

Etymology Online
The Weather Channel


  1. Wait wait where is the constellation and stars for cats???

  2. Oooh Abby! STAY TUNED! Mommy's got hot new info about cats in the night sky for NEXT week's Thursday Trivia!!

  3. It's a dogs world kitties, we keep telling you BOL xx00xx

    Mollie and Alfie

  4. Very interesting information. Something Mom says she never thought about. Thanks for sharing. Purrs and hugs, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

  5. Good Cod. Sirius must live here all year round.

  6. We never knew any of that. We agree with's a dogs world. Have a tremendous Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  7. Every day is the cat's day. But we're looking forward to hearing this information about the constellations and stars for cats that Maxwell, Faraday and Allie promised for next week. We should have lots of constellations that sparkle!

  8. We will assume that "Cat Days" are associated with lovely moderate days of early Fall!

  9. I've never heard the term being used in our country before... Perhaps because it's so hot being situated in the equator that all days are dog days of summer. LOL.

  10. The human was very interested in this. Me? Not so much! ;)


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