Dog Day Picture

The dog days do not take their peculiar name from weather that “isn’t fit for a dog,” or heat that is so extreme it drives dogs mad.

The dog days, in the most technical sense, refer to the one- to two-month interval in which a particularly bright star rises and sets with the sun, shining during the daylight hours and staying hidden at night. This star is known by three names: Sirius, the Dog Star, and Alpha Canis Majoris. Apart from being the most prominent star in the constellation Canis Major (Latin for “Greater Dog”), this heavenly body is responsible for the origin of the expression dog days, a phrase that has endured through millennia.

The Dog Star’s connection to dogs was not only maintained by constellations and mythology, it was boosted by the fact that dogs seemed to take the brunt of the dog days. They suffered from the heat more intensely than humans seemed to, and were at greater risk of madness.

The English phrase dog days, which entered the language in the 1500s, is a direct translation from the Latin term caniculares dies, which refers to this specific seasonal phenomenon and is modeled after the same term in Hellenistic Greek. It is also from Latin that we got the word canicular, which refers to the Dog Star, as well the precursor to the expression dog days: canicular days.

The Dog Star, being the second brightest star that can be seen with the naked eye, did not escape the attention of ancient astronomers. Nor did its annual disappearance from the night sky and the corresponding influx of heat. Initially, ancient Greeks blamed the Dog Star for the sweltering weather, assuming that its brightness paired with the sun manifested in the hottest days of the year. This belief was debunked in the first-century BC by Greek astronomer Geminus, but the significance of the Dog Star remained untempered.

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