Above our heads, an epic chase ensues. According to Greek mythology, Laelaps was a dog without an equal. It always caught whatever it hunted and was among the most reliable beings on Earth. The wily Teumessian fox, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. Sly and conniving, it caused all sorts of mischief on Earth and Olympus and it seemed that nothing could catch it. Zeus, finally fed up with the fox’s antics, called on Laelaps to put an end to the chicanery. The hunt began in earnest with Laelaps nipping at the fox’s heels immediately; but the fox continued to stay out of his reach. The chase continued for years until Zeus realized that they both would be doomed for eternity to be hunter and hunted, so he turned them both to stone and placed them in the sky as the constellations known as Canis Major (Laelaps) and Canis Minor (the Teumessian fox). The chase continues through today, as Canis Minor rises in the winter sky approximately one hour before Canis Major each night.
According to the Farmers’ Almanac, the time period between July 3 and August 11 is known as the “Dog Days of Summer” – generally recognized as the hottest and driest days of the year. The term sprung from the myth of Laelaps and was originally coined in Ancient Rome. From the beginning of July to the middle of August, the sun shares the same region of the sky with Sirius, the brightest star visible from any part of Earth and part of the constellation Canis Major (Laelaps); hence, Sirius is more commonly known as “the Dog Star.” The Romans believed that Sirius, itself, gave off heat that added to and increased the sun’s warmth. This collaboration reaches its apex on July 23 when Sirius and the sun rise and set in conjunction. Of course, today we know that the mid-summer heat is caused by the Earth’s tilt this time of year and not additional energy from a faraway star; but it’s easy to understand the early Roman explanation.
Enjoy this time as best you can … and stay cool. Take a swim, have an ice-cold drink, set up a lawn sprinkler and be a kid again – because come the middle of January, we will all be dreaming about the Dog Days of Summer.