Dog Days

"Dog Days" (Latin: diēs caniculārēs) are the hottest, most sultry days of summer. In the Northern Hemisphere, the dog days of summer are most commonly experienced in the months of July and August, which typically observe the warmest summer temperatures. In the Southern Hemisphere, they typically occur in January and February, in the midst of the austral summer. The name comes from the ancient belief that Sirius, also called the Dog Star, in close proximity to the sun was responsible for the hot weather.


The name

The Romans referred to the dog days as diēs caniculārēs and associated the hot weather with the star Sirius. They considered Sirius to be the "Dog Star" because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog). Sirius is also the brightest star in the night sky. The term "Dog Days" was used earlier by the Greeks (see, e.g., Aristotle's Physics, 199a2).

The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius rose just before or at the same time as sunrise (heliacal rising), which is no longer true, owing to precession of the equinoxes. The Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather.

Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, Quinto raged in anger, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies" according to Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813. [1]

The modern French term for both this summer period (and for heat waves in general) "canicule", derives from this same term. It means "little dog", again referring to Sirius.

The dates

In Ancient Rome, the Dog Days extended from July 24 through August 24, or, alternatively, July 23 through August 23. In many European cultures (German, French, Italian) this period is still said to be the time of the Dog Days.

The Old Farmer's Almanac lists the traditional timing of the Dog Days as the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the ancient heliacal (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. These are the days of the year when rainfall is at its lowest levels.

According to The Book of Common Prayer (1552), the "Dog Daies" begin on July 6 and end on August 17. But this edition of the Book of Common Prayer (The 2nd book of Edward VI) was never extensively used and never adopted by the Convocation of the Church of England.

In the lectionary of the 1611 edition of the Authorized Version of the Bible, commonly called the King James Bible, the Dog Days begin on July 6 and end on September 5. Note how this roughly corresponds to the July 4 to Labor day (in the United States) span of secular holidays.

In the lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer 1559 shows "Naonae. Dog days begin" with the readings for the 7th day of July. The end of the dog days is noted as the 18th of August. But this is noted as a misprint[2] and the readings for the 5th day of September have "Naonae. Dog days end". This corresponds with the lectionary in the Bible. The 1559 edition of the Book of Common Prayer would have provided the official liturgical calendar for Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 and years following. So the dogs days were at least officially noted in the new world. A recent edition of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer makes no mention of the dog days in the corresponding place.

Other references

For the ancient Egyptians, Sirius appeared just before the season of the Nile's flooding, so they used the star as a "watchdog" for that event. Since its rising also coincided with a time of extreme heat, the connection with hot, sultry weather was made for all time: "Dog Days bright and clear / indicate a happy year. / But when accompanied by rain, / for better times our hopes are vain."

In John Webster's 1623 play The Duchess of Malfi, the malcontent Bosola states "blackbirds fatten best in hard weather: why not I in these dog days?"

The phrase is mentioned in the short story "The Bar Sinister" by Richard Harding Davis. The main character, who is a street dog, explains "but when the hot days come, I think they might remember that those are the dog days, and leave a little water outside in a trough, like they do for the horses."

The Prologue of Tuck Everlasting, set in the first week of August, says: "These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after."

In recent years, the phrase "Dog Days" or "Dog Days of Summer" have also found new meanings. The term has frequently been used in reference to the American stock market(s). Typically, summer is a very slow time for the stock market, and additionally, poorly performing stocks with little future potential are frequently known as "dogs."[citation needed]

A casual survey will usually find that many people believe the phrase is in reference to the conspicuous laziness of domesticated dogs (who are in danger of overheating with too much exercise) during the hottest days of the summer. When speaking of "Dog Days" there seems to be a connotation of lying or "dogging" around, or being "dog tired" on these hot and humid days. A similar myth asserts that the time is so-named because rabid dogs are supposed to be the most common then. Although these meanings have nothing to do with the original source of the phrase, they may have been attached to the phrase in recent years due to common usage or misunderstanding of the origin of the phrase.

The feast day of Saint Roch, the patron saint of dogs, is August 16.

Icelanders refer to the Danish adventurer Jørgen Jürgensen as Jörundur hundadagakonungur ("Jørgen the dog-days King" in Icelandic) since he proclaimed himself lord protector for some months of 1809.

And there is this mention of "dogdays" in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

Poet J. M. Synge also wrote, "Seven dog-days we let pass, naming Queens in Glenmacnass", in the poem Queens.

The phrase is used as the title of a sonnet by Australian poet, Howard Firkin. [3]

See also


  1. ^ Brady, J: "Clavis Calendaria", vol. II, page 89. Nichols, Son, and Bentley, 1815.
  2. ^ Booty, John (1976). The Book of Common Prayer, The Elizabethan Prayer Book. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC: Folger Books. pp. 42–44. ISBN 918016-58-4. 
  3. ^

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