Friday, July 29, 2011

Dog Days of Summer

On the morning of the first rising when the sea boiled, the Wine turns sour, Dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid; causing to man among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies*

In the northern hemisphere, depending on the latitude, the “dog days” are between early July and early September and are characterized by stagnation and inactivity. From ancient times people looked at the sky, connected the dots between the stars, and imagined pictures. Constellations (star pictures) in the European culture included bears, a bull, and dogs. The dogs were called Canis Major and Canis Minor. The brightest star in the big dog is Sirius, which rises at sunrise (helical rising). It was the ancient way of calculating the dates of Canicular Days to which many civilizations attach significance.

Ancient Egyptians named the Sirius star that appeared before the flooding of the Nile after their god Osirus. Greeks and Romans both used the term “dog days.” The Romans sacrificed a brown dog to appease the rage of Sirius. Virgil’s Aeneid associated Sirus with infesting the sky with pestilent heat. The Christian feast day of St. Roch, the patron saint of dogs, is August 16. The 1552 Anglican Book of Common Prayer called the period between July 6 and August 17 the “Dog Daies” and the lectionary of the 1611 King James Bible had the days in its calendar of readings. The readings were dropped in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, but by then the references to the “dogs days” made it to the new world. The Old Farmers’ Almanac dated the dog days between July 3 and August 11, which are the days of year with lowest level of rainfall and coincide with the rising of Sirius.

“Dog Days” have found a place in literature and other media. These references include: John Webster’s 1623 play the Duchess of Malfi; John Brady’s 1813/15 Clavis Calendaria; Richard Harding Davis’ 1903 The Bar Sinister, the main character of which is a dog; Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol referred to Scrooge as having “iced his office in dog days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas;” and Jeff Kinney’s 2009 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. This time of year has been a theme of several movies including the Sidney Lumet’s award winning Dog Day Afternoon, starring Al Pacino and John Cazale, was based on P.F. Kluge article “ The Boys in the Bank” about a Brooklyn bank robbery in August 1972.

Natalie Babbitt, the author of the children’s book Tuck Everlasting, described the first weeks of August as “strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they as sure to be sorry for after.” A local librarian knows this to be true when years ago a grandfather forbid swimming or fishing in ponds or lakes in August because of infections found in the water. It was hot, so she and friends went to the river anyway. Grandfather found out and all of the disobeying crew received a whipping.
  • J. Brady. Clavis Calendaria. Vol. 89. Nichols, Son, and Bentley. 1813.
  • Natalie Babbitt. Tuck Everlasting. Farrar, Straus, Giroux. 2nd 2000.
Virgil’s Aeneid, Part18 ,astyanges weblog

No comments:

Post a Comment