Dog Days: The Great Conjunction is at hand

I am not a warm weather person. Hot and sunny days I tend to spend indoors with a vague sense of guilt unless lured outside by antique or craft shows, a project that requires heat, or occasionally, a shady corner to read or paint.

 

It seems like there are a handful of canine summer sayings, hot as a dog, dog tired, dog days… The dog days of summer have a long history.

 

We’ve inherited them from the ancient Romans, who associated the season’s hot weather with the star Sirius because it rose at about the same time as the sun. Sirius is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major and they believed it was adding its heat to that of the sun and causing the brutally hot weather they thought lead to drought, plague and madness.

 

They called them the dies caniculares and would sacrifice a dog in the spring, before the weather started heating up, in the hopes of appeasing the star and lessening the heat and the evils it brought with it.

 

While some thought that the combination of sunlight and starlight from the brightest star made the heat worse, others already understood that it wasn’t really plausible. Geminus, an astronomer in 70 BCE observed that Sirius merely marks the hot season of the year, an excellent case of correlation does not equal causation.

 

In Roman times the dog days were normally the end of July through the end of August.

 

Now, with everything in the universe moving, Sirius’s rising nearly in conjunction with the Sun is around to July 3rd through August 11th.

 

Thousands of years before Rome, Sirius was the Nile Star. 5000 years ago the near conjunction fell at the end of June, around the time that the Nile would flood its banks. The Nile’s floods were generally not violent, but flooded the farmlands and brought fertility back to the fields. This inundation was the start of the year in the Ancient Egyptian calendar. So in Ancient Egypt Sirius predawn rising was a harbinger of the New Year.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Dog Days: The Great Conjunction is at hand

  1. Cave canem, then. And it’s been cool here in Arkansas, 80 in New York, tomorrow, 75 here. Makes no sense! When do we start killing all the dogs?

    • Well, I guess it’s likely to get me in trouble to point out I’ve a lot more people I’m ready to sacrifice? The past few days have been really pleasant here, yay for this polar vortex!

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