In the English language, the use of the word ‘love’ ap plies to a range of feelings and experiences. From the love of a partner, to the love of your children, of friends, of your country, of God, and even the love of a nice roast dinner! In a world where the art of coffee has such a sophisticated vocabulary… surely the art of love deserves much more?
The ancient Greeks had a more diverse set of defini- tions for the kinds of love it is possible for a person to experience. They actually had around thirty different words to describe love, in all its many incarnations.
Let’s take a look at some of the most widely recognised forms of love, as identified by the ancient Greeks.
Though Eros stems from natural sexual urges and lusts, it is a state of the heart. Sex can lead to chil- dren, family, joy and laughter, but without Eros, these things cannot be sustained. When Eros is infused and elevated to its true position, it can be spiritual, even transcendental. A relationship founded with plenty of Eros, can transcend into Pragma (the deeper, long- standing, compromise and sacrifice of long-term love), and to Agape.
Eros is often preceded by Ludos, a playful, flirtatious affection, which can evolve into romance. Ludos, however, is not necessarily just flirtatious, but is also embodied in fun – such as going dancing, or a night’s enjoyment with friends. It may seem superficial, com- pared to some of the other kinds of love we are looking at here, but maybe we could all do with a little more Ludos in our lives.
Philea is easy love and affection, and embodies our culture and beliefs. It’s about the emotion we feel to- wards people like ourselves, or to those with whom we hold a shared goal. For teams, communities, peer groups, co-workers and so on. Philea can be combined with Storge, and is demonstrated through loyalty, sacri- fice and the sharing of confidences.
This is the love of community and family. It is a natural love, but powerful enough to be a hindrance to spiritual growth, in circumstances where family and culture have a negative effect on your life. To understand Storge is to understand the complexities surrounding our duties and obligations, as much as to appreciate and elevate the emotion at the heart of them, in a more meaningful way.
Agape, the love of humanity, is the glue that holds the other loves together and gives us the wisdom and pa- tience when other loves fail. Agape may be defined as pleasure in the object of affection, of prizing it above all other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it. Agape puts the beloved first and sacrifices pride, self- interest and possessions for the sake of that beloved. This is the love that God has for us. It is the kind of love we are commanded to have for one another, a love of supreme greatness.
This is a love which many of us sometimes forget to maintain. It is love for ourselves, the joy of being true to our own values, to caring for ourselves and practising self-compassion. To embrace True Philautia is not vain or selfish: quite the contrary. It is only through loving ourselves that we can truly embrace and experience other loves. As Aristotle puts it: “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself”.
Looking at the ways that the ancient Greeks segment- ed the general idea of love, may give some food for thought as to how to enhance our own experiences, and maybe, humanity as a whole. As we look to the annual celebration of Valentine’s Day, let’s take some time to reflect on love in all its forms, and how a deeper understanding of the word and its application can en- rich our lives, and the lives of those around us.