DOG DAYS (woof!)

Posted on: July 6, 2014

We are now in the Dog Days of the year, in other words the months of July and August. I’ve been fascinated by the expression “dog days” ever since I saw a passing reference to it in Edith Holden’s ‘The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady’, when she noted “July 3rd – Dog Days begin”. Apparently it’s taken from the time when Sirius, the Dog Star rose just before or at the same time as sunrise. In days of yore it was regarded as an evil time, a time when people acted out-of-character, or were sunk in lethargy. Dogs were also lazy, and were said to go mad, because of the heat. In Medieval times it was even thought to be unhealthy to have sex during this languid period.

The US stock market is reputedly slow during this time, and so any poorly performing stock are referred to as “dogs”. In newspaper terms the Dog Days have long been called “the Silly Season”, as a time when real new stories were scarce, and they had to fill up their pages with nonsense things, like skateboarding ducks or the world’s biggest turnip. (Sadly this no longer seems to happen, as the horror of the real news now seems to carry on regardless all year round).

The Romans believed the heat was caused by the anger of Sirius, and would sacrifice a brown dog at the beginning of the season to try and appease it. Which makes me want to question why it never occurred to them that Sirius got angry at the same time every year, and no amount of brown dogs sacrificing their lives was going to change that.

There is a particularly graphic description of the horror that can be expected during Dog Days in Brady’s Clavis Calendaria, from 1813. Try this for size: “The sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all the other creatures became languid, causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics and phrensies”.

Cripes. Anyway, Saint Roch, the patron saint of dogs, has his feast day on 16 August, which is entirely appropriate.



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