03 July 2012

3 July - Dog Days

Weather: As the Dog Days commence, so they end.

If it rains on the first day of the Dog Days, it will rain for forty days [pessimist]
It it rains on the first day of the Dog Days, it will rain for thirty days [optimist]

Dog Days bright and clear, indicate a happy year.
But when accompanied by rain, we hope for better times in vain.

Dog Days begin.  Now do we begin to swelter and remember nostalgically the days of winter.

These hottest days of the year once coincided with the heliacal rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, hence the name, and included a certain number of days preceding and following (heliacal rising being the time when the star, after being in conjunction with the sun and invisible, now emerges to be visible in the morning before sunrise). 

The ancient Egyptians hailed the rising of the Dog Star as the harbinger of plenty and prosperity, as it signified the time when the life-giving Nile would overflow its banks and fertilize the fields.  The ancient Romans, on the other hand, believed that the days bore the combined heat of the Dog Star and the Sun, causing the seas to boil, wine to turn sour, dogs to go mad, animals to turn languid, and men to fall subject to "burning fevers, hysterics and phrensies".  [Well, I don't know about the wine turning sour, but I can vouch for growing languid, and yes, it does seem that drivers are more frenzied now.

During this time, new undertakings were considered unlucky.  It was equally unlucky to go swimming now [in the time before the polio vaccine, this was probably good advice, but good luck with that today].

Modern almanacs, along with those from the last two hundred years, commence the Dog Days on the 3rd of July and end them on the 11th of August, a change said to date from the correction of the British calendar.  Prior to that, there have been quite a few different start-and-end dates, to which some people still adhere:

  • Bede’s calendar (8th  century) started them on July 14.
  • From various other medieval calendars:

                 July 13 – September 5;
                 July 17 – September 5;
                 July 14 – August 6;
                 July 14 – September 13;
                 July 20 – August 6.

  • In a calendar from the time of Elizabeth I (16th century), the days began on July 6 and lasted until September 5.
  • At the Restoration (17th century), this changed to July 19 through August 29.
  • My local paper in the 1870s faithfully reported that the Dog Days began on the 25th of July and ended on September 5th.

An old rhyme says that they start on July 20 (St. Margaret’s day) and end on August 10 (St. Lawrence’s day):

“The dog-star’s melting course to trace
This rule will never fail –
His nose adorns St. Margaret’s face
And Lawrence wags his tail.”

[Something poetical in that, if you consider the days to be as hot as dragon fire (Margaret) or a slow roasting fire (Lawrence)]

However, if their calculations are correct, those who say that “if the Dog-Days were restricted to their original place in the calendar, they would by this time bring with them frost and snow instead of intense heat” may not be far wrong.


The Etesian Winds, blowing from north to south, particularly over those European countries bordering the Mediterranean, are said to commence about now and continue for forty days without interruption.
“The etesian winds were considered by the ancients the most remarkable of the periodical winds in Greece; Aristotle and Lucretius tell us that these refreshing breezes were felt after the summer solstice, and the rising of the Canis Major; they blew from the west of north in western climates, and from the east of north in eastern expositions.  Aristotle says that they blew during the night and ceased during the day, from which it might be inferred that they were land winds…”
Conrad Malte-Brun,  System of Universal Geography (1834), p. 400.


Take time to be languid - in between the harvesting and the canning and the vacation trips (they never are restful, are they?) and all the summer activities with which we fill our days.

Don't be frenzied -  be languid.


Artwork: Engraving of a carved gem representing the Dog Star.  William Hone, Everyday Book and Table Book (1838), p. 897.

Engravings of Skiron, the North-west Wind, and Kaikias, the North-east Wind, from the Tower of the Winds, Athens.  Sir Napier Shaw, Manual of Meteorology, (1919), Vol. 1, p. 82.  Ordinarily, winds from the north were considered cold and destructive, but during the summer, they show their nicer aspects with refreshing breezes.