Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dog Days and Scaredy Cats

We are on the cusp of entering the so-called “dog days” of summer, which commence in early July and last through much of the month of August. This annual time frame embodies what is, typically, the hottest and most uncomfortable stretch of summertime. But “dog days?” Where pray tell did this expression come from? Actually, we can thank a civilization of scaredy-cats for the dog days. The ancient Greeks coined the term.

Really, there’s no point in pussyfooting around here: The ancient civilizations were populated by a litter of scaredy-cats, most of whom looked up into the skies—both day and night—and shuddered in their sandals. They were always seeing omens and harbingers of bad tidings in celestial goings-on that we now take for granted as the benignant norm.

When the ancient Greeks observed Sirius, the “Dog Star,” during the summer months, they hyperventilated en masse. Sirius, which received its moniker courtesy of its residence in the constellation Canis Major, the Big Dog, is—from our earthly catbird's seat—the brightest star in the night sky. But when the trembling folks from yesteryear saw the star effectively rise with the hot sun during early July through mid-August, they jumped to a few unfortunate conclusions and flipped their raspberries in the process. The Dog Star’s behavior had to portend wicked times to come during the blistering hot days and nights of summer. There could be no other explanation.

If there is a lesson here it is this: When you’re sweltering and sweating in the coming weeks—and moaning and groaning about the horrific heat and humidity—think of how better off you are than the perpetually petrified ancients who regularly cowered in fear of the unknown, and, yes, lived without a thing called air conditioning.

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