Dog Days of Summer. Dog Days. The dog days… What the hell is a “DOG DAY”!?
Well I’ll tell you.
I used to think that a ‘dog day’ was another name for one of those lazy days you have during summer. The ones where there is heat rising in a mirage-like haze from the roads, a slight sheen of sweat covers every forehead and more iced treats are floating about than at an Italian gelato vendor.
One of those days so hot and summery that all you want to do is take a nap under a tree then douse yourself on cool water and guzzle a litre of ice tea from a tall glass filled with ice and topped with lemon.
One of those days. The Dog Days.
But no. This is apparently (and admittedly disappointingly) not the case at all.
Apparently, the phrase stems from the Ancient Romans. Those clever little conquerors who invented all manner of things we now take for granted such as roads, cement, plumbing, government, even an EXTREMELY early computer, made a bit of a silly. For all their intelligence they may er… have read a little too much into the stars… kinda like Mystic Meg… except people actually believed them… for hundreds of years…
They believed heavily in the power of the stars and their influence over earth. They studied them extensively – at least, as extensively as they could without todays technology.
Once a year (another thing they invented, by the way, the calendar) the brightest star in the Sirius constellation would synchronise with the rise and setting of the sun, outshining all others in the sky. The Ancient Romans believed that it was the energy, light and heat released by this combination that led to the hotter and brighter summer seasons. Hence, Dog Days. It was really just a very early term for summer.
(This all has nothing to do with Harry Potter, by the way…)
The surprising thing is, that despite this being something they came up with simply as it was the only rational explanation they had for the change that came about in the environment around that time, they were not so far wrong; Sirius does shine brightest between July 3rd and August 11th, which is generally the hottest time of the year – it does not, however effect the actual temperature. That bit was all a load of rubbish. But it made them happy to feel clever, so we’ll let them have that as they were rather good at a lot of things.
It was the astronomer Geminus who out forward a more correct thesis around 70 B.C.
He wrote: “It is generally believed that Sirius produces the heat of the ‘dog days,’ but this is an error, for the star merely marks a season of the year when the sun?s heat is the greatest.”
This is what FLORENCE WELCH (of FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE fame) refers to in her song “Dog Days are Over”, used in the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. Many people originally thought the reference to “dog” was a tip in the direction of the films protagonist. Not so.
So when you thought you were hippy swaying in a field to a song about breaking up with some “dog” of a guy/girl, or emancipation from being treated like nothing more than a “dog” – you were actually celebrating the end of the summer season, as sanctioned by the Ancient Romans. Go figure!
Not so chuffed about it now, are ya…
It was purely a serendipitous moment that led me to this discovery. I was randomly pondering its implications, trying to make some nuance of sense of it, after hearing our fiery haired Florence on the radio (as you do…). Then the very next day I discovered its origins on, aptly enough, a calendar at work.
So consider this while you lament the end of the summer holidays:
When the light of the Sirius has waned, will you continue to grieve the passing of its season? Or will you invest your former vigour in new, autumnal exploits?
In other words, wocha up to after summer, anything interesting happening in the Autumn?
Just because the fairest season has lived and left, does not meanthat the sun has to set on life and all its brightness.
And so, in the best of Florence style, I bid you, put on your flowery crowns, don those flowing dresses and RUN! “Run fast for you mother and fast for your fa-a-ather/run for your children for your sisters and b-rothers.”
Would you know, I think I’m becoming something of an optimist in my old age.
…NAAAH! More like some kind of wood nymph.