Sirius, the Dog-star
September 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
Sirius, the Dog-star, is the brightest star in our night sky. In ancient Egypt the star was known as Sopdet (Greek: Sothis). Sothis was identified with the goddess Isis, who formed a trinity with her husband Osiris and their son Horus. The ancient Egyptians based their calendar on the heliacal rising of Sirius, which matches the length of our solar year.
The most commonly used proper name of this star comes from the the latin name Sīrius (derived from the Ancient Greek Σείριος, “seirios”, meaning “glowing” or “scorcher”). In Ancient Greece they observed that the rising of the Dog-star is during the hottest part of summer. Because of its brightness during the hot summer, the star was thought to cause malignant influences during this period, people were said to be “star-struck” (αστροβολητος, “astroboletos”), described as “burning” or “flaming” in literature. Pliny says that “The most powerful effects are felt on the earth from this star.” When it rises, the seas are troubled, the wines ferment, and still waters are set in motion (Book 2, Ch 40). The whole sea is sensible to the rising of the star, in some places sea-weeds and fish can be seen floating on the surface because they have been thrown up from the bottom. Among the river-fish, the silurus is said to be particularly affected by the rising of the Dog-star (and at other times set to sleep by thunder) (Book 18, Ch 58). Sirius’ effects on trees has been mentioned before here, regarding favorable times for the felling of trees, and that it causes grafts and young trees to pine away and die (see: The diseases of trees).
Pliny also says that dogs are particularly prone to become rabid during this period. He claims that canine madness is fatal to man during the heat of Sirius and that this is proven by the fact that those bitten have a deadly horror of water. (Book 8, Ch 63). The 30-day period following the star’s appearance came to be known as the Dog days. There are accounts of sacrifices of puppies offered to Sirius, to lessen the malignant emanations of the stars.
In Chinese astrology Sirius is known as the star of the “celestial wolf”.