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On Monday, we will be exactly halfway through the Dog Days of Summer. Centuries ago, the Dog Days were thought to be an evil time “when seas boiled, wine turned sour and dogs grew mad.” While this weather is not everyone’s cup of tea or glass of wine, I wouldn’t call it evil.
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, but where does it come from? Ancient Romans believed the Dog Days were the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending Aug. 11. The popular phrase has been used around the world and has come to describe a period of excessive heat.
The term was found to be first used by the Greeks, who called these days “caniculares dies” or days of the dogs, after Sirius, the “Dog Star,” known as Canicula, in Latin. Next to the sun, Sirius is the brightest star in the heavens. The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius, the Dog Star, rose at about the same time as the sun. The star was so bright many thought it “gave off” heat and that the star’s heat combined with the heat from the sun could trigger a heatwave.
Today we know that the star, as bright as it might be, does not add heat to our day. On top of that, Sirius does not always rise with the sun. The stars in the night sky shift independently of our calendar seasons. The calendar is fixed according to certain events, but the stars have shifted according to the way the Earth wobbles.
In Athens, the Dog Star will rise near the middle of August. Every 50 years or so, the sky shifts about one degree. In about 13,000 years, Sirius will be rising with the sun in mid-winter.
With modern ways to keep cool, I don’t think we should consider this weather “evil.” Having said that, I do recommend you keep an eye on your wine and your four-legged friends.
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Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network.