Enjoy the Sweaty Dog Days with Celestial Erudition!

canis_majorWe’ve had a pretty mild season, but it is mid-August, so these are precisely the dog days of summer! This name given to the hottest days of the year in the northern hemisphere is reputed to have come about due to Sirius, (also Canis Major, Sothis in Greek, or Sopdet, Isis’s star to the Egyptians).

Often visible in the evenings of spring and winter, during this time of summer, the sky’s brightest star (after the sun of course), appears to us to be “far” enough from the showoff that it’s actually visible in the morning skies, just before dawn. It appears to us to twinkle, even to be multi-colored. This time also marks the season when the Nile would flood, its yearly inundation bringing fertility in its wake, and also being associated with Isis’s tears for her dead husband Osiris, who was, in Egypt at least, the constallation we call the hunter Orion. In fact, if you follow the line of Orion’s 3-star belt behind him, you can’t miss bright Sirius just above the horizon in this picture. Whether as a goddess or best friend, the star is known for its fidelity and radiance.

Orion-and-Sirius

Sirius is the bright star near the center of the picture. You can draw a diagonal line from the mountain peak through it and then the belt of Orion.

The gorgeous picture above is from the youth blog of the Delaware Nature Society, which has more info on naked-eye stargazing. And here’s another story about the star from India, as reported by Deborah Byrd at EarthSky:

In India, Sirius is sometimes known as Svana, the dog of Prince Yudhistira. The prince and his four brothers, along with Svana, set out on a long and arduous journey to find the kingdom of heaven. However, one by one the brothers all abandoned the search until only Yudhistira and Svana were left. At long last they came to the gates of heaven. The gatekeeper, Lord Indra, welcomed the prince but denied Svana entrance. Yudhistira was aghast and told Lord Indra that he could not forsake his good and faithful servant and friend. His brothers, Yudhistira told the Lord, had abandoned the journey to heaven to follow their hearts’ desires. But Svana, who had given his heart freely, chose to follow none but Yudhistira. The prince told the Lord that without his dog, he would forsake even heaven. This is what Lord Indra had wanted to hear, and then he welcomed both the prince and the dog through the gates of heaven.

Finally, on the subject, Wikipedia offers this Homeric quote from the epic poem, the Iliad:

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.

Now doesn’t that make the sweat in your toga feel altogether more expansively erudite?

9 thoughts on “Enjoy the Sweaty Dog Days with Celestial Erudition!

  1. YES, “that make(s) the sweat in your (my) toga feel altogether more expansively erudite?(!) Thanks, Clare, your post is so rich in history and knowledge, it left me with a feeling of total inadequacy, as if ignorance was my my most outstanding feature. (Smiles.)

    • Gail, thanks for that comment it made me recall my adoration for Homer.

      Clare, the Iliad was the first book that drove me to tears, when Hector was killed and Andromache watched from the castle as Achilles, on horseback, broke all the laws of respect and dragged Hector’s dead body around. Appreciation for literature was embedded in my heart and soul with Homers words.

      As a writer, I was grateful to hear that Homer killed off one person twice in the Iliad! See, we all make mistakes! I’m going to remind my publisher about that one.

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