Stars and canines collide in ‘dog days’

We’re in the dog days of summer, at least where I live – over 90 degrees and humid. According to ancient Greeks, it's thanks to Sirius, the Dog Star.

We’re in the dog days of summer, at least where I live in Massachusetts. It’s over 90 degrees and humid – plants and joggers are wilting, cats are stretched out as far as they can go, and dogs are sprawled on porches, panting in the heat. This is what the phrase evokes, and I had always assumed, where it originated. 

It turns out that the dog days do get their name from a canine, just not the kind I’d thought. 

The dog days are “the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere,” according to Merriam-Webster, or, more broadly, any “period of stagnation or inactivity.” The term comes from a celestial dog, not a porch-napping one – Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the night sky. 

Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog, near Orion’s belt. According to Greek and Roman mythology, Canis Major represents one of Orion’s hunting dogs, eternally chasing after Lepus, the rabbit, nearby. Sirius is visible in the night sky from December to March in the Northern Hemisphere. In July and August, however, it appears to rise with the sun, shining so brightly that on rare occasions it can even be seen during the day. This extra “sun” was thought to be responsible for the scorching heat of mid- to late summer.

Ancient Greeks referred to the oppressive period as hemerai kynades, literally “dog days”; in Latin they were the dies caniculares, because Sirius was also called Canicula, “the small dog.” In English they were first known as canicular days after the Latin, but by the 16th century had assumed their present form. 

To the ancients, Sirius was thought to bring not just heat, but trouble. Droughts and sudden thunderstorms could damage crops, dogs were more likely to become rabid, and it was inauspicious to begin a journey or other large undertaking. The Greek poet Homer brings out this menacing sense in the “Iliad,” when he likens the vengeful Achilles to the Dog Star (in A.S. Kline’s translation): “racing over the plain, his bronze breastplate gleaming like Sirius, the star of harvest, brightest of stars in the dark of night. Orion’s Dog, men call it, glittering brightly yet boding ill, bringing fever to wretched mortals.” As you probably know, things don’t work out well for Troy. 

Dog days had similarly ominous connotations in English until the Protestant Reformation. Eventually they lost their association with ill fortune. 

Now the term is simply evocative of lazy, soporific summer days, when it seems too hot to move except to drink a cold glass of lemonade – when the Dog Star is high in the day-lit sky, and smaller dogs are panting on the porch.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Stars and canines collide in ‘dog days’
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today