Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Dog Days of Summer

"In Ancient Rome, the Dog Days extended from July 24 through August 24 (or, alternatively July 23-August 23). In many European cultures (German, French, Italian) this period is still said to be the time of the Dog Days.

Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, Quinto raged in anger, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and frenzies" according to Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813."

- "Dog Days" entry via Wiki

Well, let me see, currently - that is, this past week - "world news" has seemingly become an endless litany of drought, famine, economic disaster, genocide... and, oh yeah, London is burning.

Meanwhile, out here in blog-land, the apathy is so thick that you can fold it, cut it with a pair of scissors, and make a garland of paper dolls with it.

What's not to love?

You've probably heard of the phrase "dog days of summer" in the past. I have... but I didn't realize that there is a formal period described as such. But there is, and we're in it. The expression actually originated from the fact (and/or assumption, and really, who cares?) that Sirius - the Dog Star - rises at the same time as the sun during this period. The actual dates seem to vary - July 3 thru August 11 is another time frame - but, regardless, these days (as the song goes...) certainly feel like those described by the Clavis Calendarium.

Sirius is an important star in "new age" mythology, sometimes referred to as "the dragon's tail". It, and the neighboring constellation of Orion, appear in the photograph above, which was taken in Guatemala by St├ęphane Guisard, near a Mayan temple.

While doing my research I came upon another interesting tidbit... and this concerns the "Dog Day Cicada". I've always been fascinated by the cicadas and their life-cyle, and the strange, cryptic pattern on their backs. I remember going out one summer day years ago, and finding a dead cicada on the doorstep. In my magical-child's mind I thought it was an omen or message, and secreted the husk in a tiny wooden box.

As it so happens, there are variety of cicadas, some hidden in the ground in a larval stage for many years before they emerge, but the Dog-Day - or, Tibicen - emerges from the ground every year around this time; hence it's name.

In Wiki's Cicada entry we read: "In Japan, the cicada carries further philosophical connotations of re-birth. Since the cicada emerges from the ground to sing every summer, it is a symbol of reincarnation. Of special importance is the fact that the cicada moults, leaving behind an empty shell. But furthermore, since the cicada only lives for the short period of time long enough to attract a mate with its song and complete the process of fertilization, they are seen as a symbol of evanescence."

As it stands, the cicada has a very rich, ancient mythologyThis comes from Plato:

"It is in Phaedrus that Socrates states that some of life's greatest blessings flow from mania, specifically in the four kinds of mania: (1) prophetic; (2) poetic; (3) cathartic; and (4) erotic. It is in this context that Socrates' Myth of the Cicadas is presented. The Cicadas chirp and watch to see whether their music lulls humans to laziness or whether the humans can resist their sweet song. Cicadas were originally humans who, in ancient times, allowed the first Muses to enchant them into singing and dancing so long that they stopped eating and sleeping and actually died without noticing it. The Muses rewarded them with the gift of never needing food or sleep, but to sing from birth to death. The task of the Cicadas is to watch humans to report who honors the Muses and who does not."

(... found hereTo listen to an example of cicada "song", click here. The above cicada photo and more can be found here.)

Hmmm... "muses"? Forgetting to eat and sleep? Sounds vaguely familiar... But then, during these sweltering days of late summer, the weather generally doesn't permit sleep anyway.

But, (all of) that being said, the latter days of summer hold another special meaning for many of us... specifically, a birthday.

The anniversary of Mac Tonnies' birth falls on a Saturday this year - the 20th of August... and, therefore, he was born on one of the Dog Days by some calendars. I don't know if he was aware of Dog Day mythology but, knowing Mac, he probably would have had something ironically humorous to say about it.

Sadly, I don't. 

But, on Saturday the 20th, I'll light a little birthday candle in his memory this year. No, I won't blow it out. I'll let it burn down to the very end.


  1. Intriguingly enough, as Sirius marks the Dogs Days of Summer, in the South Pacific, it marks the coming of winter....obviously the European influence is far stronger in our culture.

    An intriguing post - moving flawlessly from Sirius to circadias to Mac's birthday -- well written!

  2. Well, let's not even discuss winter... though I suppose wintering in the South Pacific might be a luxury!

    And I don't know about "flawlessly", but thanks BG.

    P.S. Whilst coming back to this post I decided to throw in a little "joy"... ;-)