I’m sitting on the front porch this early morning with my dog Sydney. We are waiting and hoping for a small breeze to cool us off.
Well, I know I am waiting and hoping. I’m not sure what old Syd is waiting and hoping for. Another treat, more than likely.
Who knows? It’s possible he doesn’t pay much mind this hot, humid late August weather. These are referred to as the “dog days,” after all.
The dog days of summer. That span from about early July to early September when to walk outdoors is to slowly trudge across the sea floor of a thick ocean of humid air. When early mornings and late nights are the only possible times to be outside without spontaneously sweating. When we all give thanks to those inventive individuals who made possible conditioned air and swaying electric fans.
At one time it was believed this stretch of mid-summer heat could make dogs go mad. In fact, the term “Dog Days” comes from the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, also known as the “dog star.”
Sirius rises with the sun in the mornings during this time of the year. The ancient Greeks thought Sirius was not only bright but hot enough that it actually added to the sun’s radiation, making the days even warmer. Seriously.
Ancient Greeks referred to the star as “Orion’s Dog” because it rises in the summer just after the constellation Orion as if it is following along on the heels of its master.
The Greeks didn’t associate the star with insanity-inducing heat; that came later on in history. They did believe, however, that Orion’s Dog brought tribulations such as war and disease.
In The Iliad, Homer writes: “Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest/of all, but an evil portent bringing heat/And fevers to suffering humanity.”
It is not surprising that the brightest star in the night sky would have a special place in the astronomy and mythology of cultures across the globe. What is curious is the number of cultures that associate it with canines.
The Greeks not only called it Dog Star but located it in the constellation Canis Major, which means “Great Dog.”
Many indigenous tribes of North America link Sirius to a dog, including the Tohono O’odham in the Southwest, who refer to it as the dog who follows the mountain sheep; the Blackfoot, who call it “Dog-face”; and the Cherokee, who consider it one of the Dog-Star guardians of the “Path of Souls.” Other nations from the Great Plains to the Bering Strait see the star as the “Wolf Star,” the “Coyote Star,” and “Moon Dog,” while in another part of the world, Chinese astronomers refer to it as the “Celestial Wolf.”
Scientists tell us that Sirius appears so bright to us not because it is more luminous than other stars but because, being only 8.6 light years from Earth, it is relatively close to us.
Also, they have discovered that it is actually two stars seen as one. Astronomers tell us Sirius is slowly moving closer to Earth and will continue to do so for the next 60,000 years, at which time it will start to recede.
Don’t worry, though, Sirius will continue to be the brightest star we Earthlings will see for the next 210,000 years. That’s a relief.
And speaking of relief, it might be getting close to the time when I decide to wimp out, give up the early morning porch and go inside. I wonder if Syd cares about Dog Stars and evil portents and light years. Probably not.
I imagine all he is concerned with right now is going inside with me after I give him another treat. Here you go, Buddy.
Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.