Comments on the Dog Star(s) by an Astronomer and Classicist

2019.06.02 | Introduced by Gregory Nagy

The posting I wrote for Classical Inquiries 2019.05.24 was inspired by the research of my dear friend Roger Ceragioli, whose work on the Dog Star(s) is for me a perfect fusion of scientific and philological approaches. Thus I feel all the more honored and delighted that he has agreed to the posting of a response that he has written to my posting. And I find it most moving that he has dedicated his posting to a beloved mutual friend of ours, Marian Demos, whose tragically premature death we both mourn.


2019.06.02 | By Roger Ceragioli

Dear Greg,

I really enjoyed your recent post: “On Cases of Wolfish Rage Experienced by Greek Heroes.” You cited my old dissertation from graduate school days in Classics at Harvard. Thanks for the honorable call-out! You beautifully wove it with the weft of your own deeper knowledge of Greek culture, into a sparkling and pithy text.

I got a smile from seeing Pluto, the soapy Disney pooch! Although Pluto isn’t a rabid hound, like Sirius during the “Dog Days,” fiery and flashing in all the colors of the spectrum, the real Dog Star isn’t always raging and scintillating. Often it can also be seen as a faithful and pacific Doggy in the Sky, the friend of Orion the Hunter, constantly at his side.

An interesting detail about the star Sirius is that he—or we could even say “she,” hē Kuōn—that she has a tiny companion star just beside her, which some people affectionately call, “The Pup.” From time to time in a strong telescope, the Pup peaks out timidly for under mama’s apron, so to speak, when the latter is in a jolly mood.

Here’s a picture I took of them last year through a telescope I built:


The Pup is the timid speck of light peeping out just to the left of Big Doggy, between Mama’s apron-strings.

Some fun facts: The Pup was first seen in your own backyard, that is, Cambridge, MA, in January 1862, when the legendary father & son telescope-making team of Alvan Sr. and Alvan Graham Clark turned what was then the mightiest telescope in the world, made by them with Yankee ingenuity, on Sirius to test the powers of the new instrument. Alvan Jr. first spotted the Pup, when Mama Star quieted her baying for a moment.

More fun facts: Pooch Pluto in the Disney cartoon of 1932 is a nod to the recently discovered planet Pluto (found in 1930) at the Arizona Observatory founded by Percival Lowell, a Harvardian, brother of poet Amy Lowell and President A. Lawrence Lowell (think of Lowell House). Why, the whole thing is a veritable rabid riot of Harvardiana that you’ve pointed your divining rod to! Not just the Lowells, Boston Brahmins, but the Putnams. Michael Putnam, Harvard Ph.D., classicist, and relative of the Lowell family, served for years as a trustee of “Uncle Percy’s Observatory,” which is still going strong today. And the Clarks themselves did a tremendous business for 50 years with the Harvard College Observatory, up on Concord Ave, near where I used to live. They were even featured in the annual “Observatory Play,” that used to be put on by HCO staff.

It’s all a delightful mélange, for me conjuring up gossamer memories of times gone by, when in our younger years we were together there in Cambridge with friends, Marian Demos and Lynn Sawlivich, during the 80s and 90s of the last century. Now, alas, Marian of blessed memory is gone away, much too soon, off to the Empyrean World of Spirit, the Summer Land far beyond Planet Pluto and even the River Styx. It is to the beautiful Spirit of Marian that I dedicate these my words. We shall never forget her.