July 2015. The dog days of summer are here and with them my recurring curiosity about the definition of dog days. “The hottest part of the year,” says my Oxford English Dictionary, dog days are “reckoned in antiquity with the heliacal rising of Sirius, the dog star.” Heliacal (sounds like maniacal) = “rising with the Sun.” Sirius comes from the Latin and originally Greek seirios astēr, “scorching star, because it rose with the Sun in the heat of summer.” So how did this wild, scorching star become associated with dogs?


Summer residence, 1979. Photograph c Rebecca Lawton.

Some say Sirius in the sky looks to be following like a hound on Orion-the-hunter’s heels. Know to the Romans as Canicula, or “little dog,” Sirius comes up into our view of constellations at the time of year when heat drives canines (and humans) to distraction. In the Iliad, Homer writes:

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.

It doesn’t take much heat to drive me to distraction–that is, to distract me from doing anything much. Dog days are best for the hammock, novel reading, falling asleep while playing mandolin, stargazing, fishing, river running, camping by the lake–anything but working. Nonetheless my dog days this year have been set aside for revising a novel as if my life depends on it. And maybe it does.

Meanwhile, as it always does in the dog days of summer, my favorite baseball team will likely fall apart, get behind in the count, and to a man wear expressions of bemusement and loss. Many will suffer until los Gigantes come back swinging when the heat of August yields to the softer sun in September.

In the midst of all this suffering, I’d love to have you follow my blog. Engage with any posts that intrigue you. And you can sign up for my seasonal postcard to receive short, occasional updates on events I’m giving. I’d love to see you at any of them and to hear how your own writing life is treating you.