Figs in winter and the idea of an art of living

by Massimo Pigliucci

So if you long for your son or your friend at a time when they aren’t given to you, you’re longing for a fig in winter, believe me. (Epictetus, Discourses, III.24.87)

Figs are one of my favorite fruits. The common edible fig’s scientific name is Ficus carica, a plant native of the Mediterranean and western Asia. Figs are in season twice a year: during the first few weeks in June, and then again between August and October. That’s it. Which means that if I crave fresh figs in December or January I’m a bit of a fool. I’m even more of a fool if I don’t take advantage of the right season and manage to have my fill of figs when they are actually around.

This is the metaphor that the first century Stoic philosopher Epictetus uses to explain to his students why they should not regret their loved ones when they are longer around, but should very much pay attention to them when they are. The idea applies to everything in life: relatives, partners, friends, but also the stages of our own life—from childhood to old age—and of course for everything we think we possess, in terms of material objects. … (continue on Substack, FREE)