We are in “the dog days of summer”.
This phrase, for what is supposed to be the hottest part of the summer, believed by the ancients to be a time of bad omens, stems from the name of the bright star seen well at this time of year, Sirius (from Greek seirios, “blazing, scorching”). Sirius is called the “Dog Star”, because it is part of the canine constellation, Canis Major, which follows Orion the Hunter up into the sky at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. For your Tolkien fans, Orion is “Menelvagor with his shining belt”. Those of you who have satellite radio from Sirius now know why the logo involves a little dog.
For the ancient Romans the Dog Days began on 24 July. They would sacrifice a brown dog with the hope that the season wouldn’t be too hot or bring diseases. I would happily sacrifice a particularly annoying little brown dog I know of, as a matter of fact. I digress. Long before the Romans paid attention to Sirius, nisi fallor, the Egyptians used its rising to anticipate the all important flooding of the Nile. The Dog Days ended for the Romans on 24 August. Due to your planet’s axial precession, the date of the dog days has shifted over time.
I wonder if there is a connection between the Jetson’s dog, Astro and…. No. Probably not. But there may be a connection between Sirius Black and the Dog Star, since Sirius could shift-shape into a dog. I digress.
If you fall under the baleful effects of the Dog Star, you are said to be astroboletus,”star struck”, which probably means you are besotted with love or otherwise in a burning or flaming passion.
My favorite among the ancient Roman poets of the golden age, Q. Horatius Flaccus, Horace, has a delightful poem about the fresh running spring near his country home, his getaway from the chaos of Rome, which through the ages has been nicknamed his “Sabine Farm”. He mentions these canicular days.
O fons Bandusiae splendidior uitro,
dulci digne mero non sine floribus,
cras donaberis haedo,
cui frons turgida cornibus
primis et uenerem et proelia destinat.
Frustra: nam gelidos inficiet tibi
rubro sanguine riuos
lasciui suboles gregis.
Te flagrantis atrox hora Caniculae
nescit tangere, tu frigus amabile
fessis uomere tauris
praebes et pecori uago.
Fies nobilium tu quoque fontium
me dicente cauis impositam ilicem
saxis, unde loquaces
lymphae desiliunt tuae.
I believe I once recorded this poem in Latin for a PODCAzT.
For those of you whose Latin is not up to this poem (not my translation):
O Bandusian fountain, brighter than crystal,
worthy of sweet wine, not lacking in flowers,
tomorrow we’ll honour you
with a kid, whose brow is budding
with those horns that are destined for love and battle.
All in vain: since this child of the playful herd will
darken your ice-cool waters,
with the stain of its crimson blood.
The implacable hour of the blazing dog-star
knows no way to touch you, you offer your lovely
coolness to bullocks, weary
of ploughing, and to wandering flocks.
And you too will be one of the famous fountains,
now I write of the holm oak that’s rooted above
the cave in the rock where your
clear babbling waters run down.
One of my Latin profs in grad school told me that you don’t really appreciate Horace until you are a little older. That was 30 years ago, and I understand what he meant.
I have visited Horace’s villa several times, with groups of friends and Latin students. We brought goodies for a picnic and chilled bottles of white wine in the spring’s pool and read Horace in Latin, shaded from the sun, surrounded by cicadas and flaming poppies.
Perhaps you might sacrifice a goat tomorrow evening, or alternatively a dog, and then roast it slowly over a fire of dried cutting from your vineyards and orchards, and then consume it with friends and large quantities of the red wine he also mentions.