Orion, the hunter in Greek and Roman mythology, was a giant of a man. Of course, during the time of Orion, anything over five feet five would have been considered a giant of a man, Cyclops notwithstanding. Orion would never have made the NBA cut or even gotten a scholarship to a NCAA university unless they had a bowhunting team. The Watusis would have considered Orion a runt. But I digress.
Orion never left home to go hunting without three things, four if you count his plaid shirt: his bow and arrows yes, those are actually many things if you want to get literal about it; his dogs ditto; and a large skin full of wine hed nip at all day long to calm his nerves, sharpen his eyes and make him seem funnier in case he ran into some fair damsel he wanted to impress with his witty repartee.
Since the prey he often pursued were the seven daughters of Atlas, it wasnt like he never ran into damsels while hunting. Atlas was a joker who laboured under the illusion he supported the heavens on his broad shoulders and, being obviously crazy, gave his daughters names like Merope, Sterope, Alcyone and Electra, this being an age before such "normal" names as Ethel, Blanche, and Tiffany. Because no one in ancient Greece could keep all the girls names straight, they simply referred to them as the Pleiades, the ancient Greek word for "girls borne of a crazy man and given incredibly bizarre names."
Anyway, Orion became obsessed by the Pleiades and hunted them like there was no tomorrow. Orion, it should be noted, was the first recorded stalker in history but that wouldnt really become a recognized obsession until late in the 20 th century by which time it would get lost in the miasma of psycho-social maladies.
The Pleiades really didnt enjoy being stalked by a giant of a man who wore plaid all the time, was usually drunk and always had a couple of smelly dogs with him. It was like, "Gag me with a spoon, who is this guy?" So they ratted Orion out to their father Atlas who said, "Gimme a break already. Im keeping the heavens up, you girls arent getting any younger and I dont see a lot of other guys sniffing around wanting any of you."
Realizing they couldnt count on their crazy father for help, the Pleiades turned to their friend Diana. Diana was a babe, a real looker. She was also really good with a bow and arrow and she too had a dog. Actually, if Orion hadnt been drunk all the time, he probably would have realized Diana was a much better prospect for his amorous advances and put the moves on her but like I said, the dude was obsessed. It probably didnt help that she was also the goddess of virginity in a land where men were men and sheep were worried, but everybody has their cross to bear.
To make a long story short, Diana killed Orion, remained a virgin and was immortalized in song by Paul Anka not a giant of a man himself which fulfills my CanCon quotient for this weeks column. Orion and his dogs became constellations in the night sky as did, ironically enough, the Pleiades who finally pissed Zeus off. Zeus, being the big kahuna of ancient Greece and having a lot to keep track of, couldnt keep the girls names straight and got tired of them always harping at him "No silly, Im Sterope; shes Merope." Zeus, who was a real joker, set the girls among the stars to get them the hell out of ancient Greece and relieve their crazy father of his main terrestrial worry, letting him concentrate exclusively on holding the heavens up.
So now and presumably forever Orion and his dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor endlessly chase the Pleiades across the night sky of the northern hemisphere from December through March and across the southern hemisphere between November and April, taking the summer off to vacation in the Greek Isles.
But Siriusly folks, where this is headed isnt about Orion at all but about his big dog, Canis Major. It is, unfortunately, lost to history exactly what the Greater Dogs name was so well call him Scooter. Scooter and his buddy, whose name is also lost to antiquity, were important enough to the story that they became their own constellations, always leading Orion onwards towards his elusive prey. Well, actually, theyre leading Orion toward the constellation Lepus, the Hare, because any sane dog would rather chase rabbits than sniff around a bunch of girls. They just didnt have the heart to tell Orion they had their own agenda.
The brightest star in Scooter is Sirius. Sirius is, quite naturally, called the Dog Star. If you were drawing the constellation Scooter, Sirius would be Scooters nose. Kind of like Rudolph the Reindeer who isnt a constellation but we all know the song anyway.
As an aside, in the never-ending battle of dogs and cats, the sky is just filled with dogs. Besides Orions mutts, there are Boötes' Hounds, Canes Venatici, so many dogs in the night sky its amazing there isnt a constellation of some guy scraping off the bottom of his sandal up there. There are no constellations depicting the domesticated cat. Only lions... and tigers... and bears, oh my.
Historically, the ancient Egyptians whod heard the story of Orion and Scooter and the rest of them from Roman traveling salesmen associated the rising of Sirius with the flooding of the Nile, known in ancient Egypt as the season of wet feet. Legend has it that in years when Scooter didnt rise, the Nile didnt flood and the dogs had nothing to drink, but Im not sure I believe that.
In modern, enlightened times, now that weve evolved beyond such myths and no one knows the names or locations of any constellations except weird guys who cant get dates and look at the stars instead, we still celebrate Scooter and his dog nose Sirius. In the wee hours of early July mornings, the Dog Star rises with the sun. Since the sun is a lot closer, we cant see the dogs nose rise with it so youll have to take my word for it.
Scooter poking his nose up with the rising sun happens to coincide with the onset of hot weather in most parts of the northern hemisphere. Even in Whistler. Its because of this coincidence we call these days the Dog Days of summer.
For those of you who thought the Dog Days were named that because dogs get lazy and finally cut us some slack about taking them out for a walk, now you know the truth. Zippy the Dog was crestfallen when I told him the real story about Dog Days so you might want to keep it to yourself.