“Thus, the ultimate choice for a man [woman], in as much as he is driven to transcend himself, is to create or to destroy, to love or to hate.”
Ancient Greece was one of the most influential civilizations of history. It produced some of history’s greatest thinkers, from Plato to Aristotle. The language lives on today, influencing today's speech and visible n its roots. For the Greek philosophers, love could not be expressed with one word. They had seven different words to describe all the ways love was experienced. They would be shocked to learn that today we use “love” to describe every emotion from friendship to sexual love.
Each of the words used by the ancient Greeks expressed a different aspect of the emotion. Learning these words and understanding the differences between them can help us learn about the many ways we experience love in our lives.
The Seven Greek Words For Love:
1. “Storage”: Natural Instinctual Affection
This is a familial affection, such as the love of a parent for their children, and children for their parents. It is a love without physical attraction and is primarily about family, kinship and familiarity. In some cases, childhood friends have this type of love for one another, and it can last for a lifetime
2. “Philia”: Friendship
The Greeks valued friendships above all other relationships. Philia describes a committed friendship. It was about showing loyalty to your friends, sacrificing for them, as well as sharing your emotions with them. It requires virtue, equality, and familiarity. Storage and Philia resemble one another in that both are forms of love without physical attraction.
For the Greeks, philia was the type of friendship that developed between brothers in arms who fought side by side in the battlefield. Today, we still see it in persons who have served in the military. It can be seen between people united in fight for a cause, in recovery groups and organizations dedicated to the mutual welfare of one another.
3. “Ludus”: Playful love
This is a love that also was greatly valued by the ancient Greeks - a playful affection found between children, friends, or casual lovers. It describes moments when there is teasing and flirting in the early stages of a friendship or romance. It can be found when friends sit around bantering and laughing or when we go dancing.
Current social norms may frown on this kind of adult playfulness, but a little more ludus might be just what we need to spice up our love lives.
4. “Eros”: Sexual And Erotic
Eros was the Greek God of fertility, representing the idea of sexual passion and desire. As with many of the Gods, he had two sides: the life-giving and the life-treating. Unlike today, the Greeks didn’t always think of Eros as something positive. They knew that eros could be a dangerous, fiery, and irrational form of love that could take hold of you and possess you. Eros frightened the Greeks because it involved a loss of control. Many people today hope to fall "madly” in love, which is a form of losing control.
5. “Agape”: Unconditional, Divine Love
Agape is the most radical form of love. It is a selfless love that extends to all people, whether they are family members or distant strangers. Many spiritual communities have agape as part of their belief system. The Christian faith sees it as the highest form of love. In the Theravada school of Buddhism, Mettā is the first of the four sublime states. It means benevolence, loving kindness, and active interest in others. It is universal loving kindness – agape by another name. It is the Latin from of agape, “caritas”, which is the origin of the word “charity”. Agape is an ideal that few are able to obtain, but it is a goal toward which we can work.
6. “Philautia”: Love of the Self
Aristotle recognized that there were two types of self-love. The first is narcissism, where you become self-absorbed and focused on your personal needs and desires to the detriment of others, which is dysfunctional and causes harm.
The second is a healthier form, where you like yourself, love yourself and are your own best friend. You feel secure in yourself which makes it possible to give to others out of love. This was called philautia. Aristotle wrote, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s [woman’s] feelings for him/herself.” Self love is having the strength to take care of ourselves so that we have a wider capacity to love and give to others. It is our joy in being true to ourselves.
The Buddhist inspired idea of self-compassion is also a form of philautia.
7. "Pragma": Mature Love
You may have heard of a seventh form of love that comes from a Greek root as well. The use of the ancient Greek root pragma as a form of love was popularized in the 1970s. Canadian sociologist John Allen Lee described it as a mature, realistic love that is commonly found amongst long-established couples. Pragma is about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance. There is little evidence that the Greeks commonly used this term themselves, so it is best thought of as a modern update on the ancient Greek loves.
Social psychologist, psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm wrote a classic book on love, The Art of Loving. He believed that love is a skill that needs to be developed just as an artist would develop his/her talent toward mastery. Love in all its forms, need to be nurtured by seeking to love others. Next week we will continue the journey of learning to love.