My beagle on a hot summer day (Photo credit: Cara Suppa)
Ever step outside in mid-July and think, “Woof! Is it too hot!”? You can find many dog days of summer quote examples referring to this scorching, sultry weather, and because the phrase is so old, they go back hundreds, even thousands, of years!
Being the curious sort, I had to look into it — after all, I’m like a dog with a bone when it comes to a cool phrase. I was surprised to discover how often writers and other famous people have referenced the dog days of summer.
If you’re like me, you might have assumed that we call them “the dog days of summer” because when it’s that hot outside, our dogs get lethargic, restless, and pant a lot. That’s not it all.
From July 3 to August 11, the dog days of summer was a phrase first coined by the Greeks, who noticed the hottest days of the year coincided with the star Sirus, the Dog Star, rising with the sun.
If that’s not poetic and made for literature, I don’t know what is. Let’s look at some of the best places you can find dog days of summer quote or reference to Sirius, the Dog Star.
“Priam saw him first, with his old man’s eyes/A single point of light on Troy’s dusty plain/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/Achilles’ bronze gleamed like this as he ran.” — Homer, The Iliad, c. 600 BCE
I know this is a long one, but the extended metaphor is compelling. In the Illiad, Achilles is coming for Hector at the start of the Trojan War. Notice how they compare Achilles’ brilliant armor to the suffocating heat that the Dog Star brings in summer.
“Some husbandmen, of late, have found the way/a hilly heap of stones above to lay/and press the plants with shards of potters’ clay/This fence against immoderate rain they found/or when the dog-star cleaves to the thirsty ground.” — Virgil, Georgics, c. 29 BCE
Virgil, better known for his epic poem The Odyssey, was writing here about winemakers 2,000 years ago. Do you think Roman vintners still use this method?
(Image source: Pixabay)
“…for there be sometimes of the years wherein purga∣things ought not to bee ministered, as in Somer, especially the Doggie days, as they are commonly called, during the time that the Sunne is in Leo…” — Phillip Moore, The Hope of Health, 1564
Moore was writing a health treatise during the Elizabethan period, and here his topic was bloodletting (or bleeding). He strongly advises against bleeding people during the “doggie daies”; I — and all of the modern medicine — would have to advise against it at all.
“He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843
The “he” is Ebenezer Scrooge, of course, and I think it’s so neat that a phrase like “dog days” sounds just as natural in work from Victorian England as it does today.
“Dog days bright and clear/Indicate a good year;/But when accompanied by rain,/We hope for better times in vain.” — Henry Harrison Chase Dunwoody, Weather Proverbs, 1883
For Dunwoody, as long as the dog days of summer were dry and sunny, the crops would be good. I think everyone’s moods would be better, too.
“Now came the dog days—day after day of hot, still summer, when for hours at a timing light seemed the only thing that moved; the sky-sun, clouds and breeze-awake above the drowsing downs.” — Richard Adams, Watership Down, 1972
If this passage from Watership Down doesn’t put you right in the thick of the heat, I don’t know what will. It’s an utterly perfect description of the dog days.
“…strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.” — Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting, 1975
What’s cool about this quote is how it evokes the Grecian belief that people went “mad” during this period of summer. I also appreciate the word “breathless,” as the heat can be so intense it feels like it’s difficult to breathe outside.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, Jeff Kinney, 2007
The title of the 2007 Jeff Kinney kids book refers to the main character’s summer break from school, a break that is marked by many adventures and some mishaps, notably caused by the family’s new dog.
My son loved this book when he was little, and if you have kids, there is also a movie!
“The dog days are over/the dog days are done.” — Florence + the Machine, Dog Days Are Over, 2008
For fans of folksy, female-fronted indie music, the Florence + the Machine tune is a great listen. She sings, The song’s protagonist has been through a rough patch in life but is onto better, brighter things — perhaps as bright as the Dog Star itself?
“In Iceland, we called him Jörundur, the Dog-Day King, and he is in his way the only king we have ever had.” — Einar Már Guðmundsson, Hundadagar, 2015
Do yourself a huge favor and read up on Jörundur, a Danish adventurer who proclaimed himself King of Iceland in the 19th century. His “rule” lasted about two months, coinciding with — you guessed it — the dog days of summer. This guy was quite the force of nature himself.
“Stocks to buy for the ‘dog days’ of summer.” — Jeff Remsburg, article headline for Investorplace, 2020
Writing on July 6, Remsburg is referencing the stock market’s “dog days,” or the period during which trading is a lot slower than usual. I bet when it’s that slow, all the traders would rather be at home with their pups.
Even if you aren’t a history buff like me, it’s still fascinating how the phrase “dog days of summer” is so widely used over the last 2,000+ years. While it might not have much to do with any actual dogs, if you’re like me, just hearing it makes you want to bring your pup a fresh, cold bowl of water.