There are so many fascinating maxims, aphorisms, and other turns of phrase in our language. Most of the time we hear or use them without much thought, and that’s fine. One such expression that you may have come across is “dog days.”
Sure, there was a semi-dece Florence + the Machine song using it, but actually the phrase goes back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians.
“Dog days” usually refers to the most oppressively hot and unpleasant days of summer. This period of time was often marked in the Northern Hemisphere by the rise of Sirius (Orion’s dog) in the early morning sky.
As far back as the Iliad, the dog days are mentioned:
Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.
The dog days were often considered an ill-fortuned and evil time, with wicked heat bringing on madness, disease, and languidness. Medieval sources usually marked their beginning around early July and their end during mid August or the beginning of September.
I was reminded of the phrase this morning during my walk to work. Sure, it’s still getting into the 80’s and 90’s during the day around here, but it was near 60 degrees early on today, and I felt a hint of autumn stirring. The dog days are over now!