Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Dog Days of Summer

"Calpurnia listened. 'I know it's February, Miss Eula May, but I know a mad dog when I see one. Please ma'am hurry!'"

-- To Kill a Mockingbird

A lot has been said, surmised, and written about the scene in Harper Lee's classic novel in which old Tim Johnson, beloved neighborhood dog, is found to have gone "mad" (rabid) and is shot dead by Atticus Finch in front of his shocked children. Atticus, once hailed as the best shot in the entire county, is not a gun owner and has never handled a firearm in front of his family. Atticus Finch is a gentleman.

Ahem. Well. That is a discussion for another time and place. Here we will focus on the interesting and unexplained insistence in the novel that dogs do not, as a rule, "go mad" in the winter time.

Having grown up in cities with generally well-funded animal control departments, I have been fortunate enough to have never seen a rabid dog. I do know that rabies is passed from one infected dog, bat, or human to another through contact with bodily fluids, usually via bites. So when I read this scene in Mockingbird my first thought was: "What the hell does the season have to do with the presence of a rabid dog?"

My second thought was: "Oh my God! Is the notion that dogs only go mad in the heat of the summer the meaning behind the phrase dog days of summer? If so, is To Kill a Mockingbird the origin of that phrase?"

Short answers: sort of, and no. According to Wikipedia, the phrase originated way before Harper Lee was even born and had more to do with astronomy than anything else. But the sentiment behind the saying remains the same, generations later. From an 1813 poem:

Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad...

Mad dogs just need to be loved.

No comments:

Post a Comment