Though the phrase “dog days of summer” may conjure images of panting pups lying in the shade, the origin of the term is much more archaic and celestial.
When the ancient Greeks and Romans studied the sky they saw that Sirius, also called the dog star, rose with the sun between July 3rd and August 11th. Because Sirius is the brightest star and appears in a warm season, they believed that Sirius projected more heat at the earth.
What the ancients didn’t know was that Earth’s axis tilts, which keeps the northern hemisphere closer to the sun in summer.
This makes the Mediterranean climate hot and muggy during these days, but no less beautiful. If anything, the heat was a good excuse to slow down and take in the scenery.
So the position of the earth in relation to the sun creates longer, hotter days. Though it does make dogs (and humans!) lazier, the stars are not to blame.
Though the term originated in the Mediterranean, it is used throughout the northern hemisphere to describe the hottest days of the summer.
Throughout its lengthy history, the phrase “dog days” has cemented itself in the English lexicon. People use it casually in their every day speech, and ancient poets like Homer and Hesiod used the term in their works.
Modern poet Howard Brown, in his poem “Dog Days” from The Gossamer Nature of Random Things, brilliantly captures the feeling of heat and humidity so accurately:
the dog days
are upon us.
a demonic presence,
dancing out of
a fevered dream;
the languorous air
so still, so passive,
its abiding torpor,
As Earth tilts towards the sun we humans should take time to laze about and relax, just like our animal friends. These days can seem like a time outside our real lives, a new country of summer.
And if you get up early enough, you and your dog just might see Sirius on your morning stroll.