Of course, the Ancient Greeks had 6 words for love
In the English language, there is one word with a dozen different definitions. ‘Love’ is a word which means everything from a warm attachment to attraction based on sexual desire and even a score in tennis. If you scan through the ways that English speakers use the word love, no wonder it has so much power and at the same time why it has so little. For personal intent or the ways which each of us feel about the word love, are not necessarily communicated by its use. In order to properly express what we mean by the word love, it must be bundled with other descriptors.
Because love can be used to express everything from the fondness for a morning cup of coffee to the deep connection between partners, the weight of the word love can be tricky to assess. Especially when the same person is known to use the word to convey a wide range of emotions or ideas. Making the water even more muddy is the idea that the word love is automatically associated to pair bonding as reason for uniting in the first place. This label puts so much weight on a social relationship like marriage, which is already under excessive pressure.
It stands to reason, if we actually have many ways to convey different types of love, but the word is constant, then the same nuances should also be applied to the institution of marriage. That is exactly what has happened. Pair bonding was once a means to advance families in the status of their communities, love was not a key factor in the arrangement. Marriages which were arranged since birth or merely to add more labor to the family operation, these unions were not based on the idea of love. Or were they? Maybe the idea of love has evolved in the English language, over time.
The ancient Greeks had little confusion when it came to the concept of love, using at least 6 different descriptors. These are no nuances or slight variations, these are unique ideas which carried weight in their Ancient world. Having clocked many miles in the Athenian capital, I like to imagine the places where the philosophers of the day, gathered to debate not just politics, but novel ideas like love. By this very discourse, there was a space opened up in society to love in a variety of ways with many people. This likely created a rich social life, filled with a cast of interesting characters. Instead of hoping one word could serve up a lifetime of fulfillment with a narrow selection of people to provide it.
Eros refers to ‘passionate love’ or romantic love. The word erotic is derived from eros. But scholars from Plato, to Freud and Jung have debated that eros starts in one form and transcends into another over time. In the wider sense, eros is viewed as an equivalent to ‘life energy’. However, I think the common practice of everyday people held eros as more passionate affair of the heart. The image of eros was described in the same manner as the latin cupid. If you were pierced by the ‘love’s arrows’ you would overwhelmed with desire and longing.
Aristotle defines the activity of Philia as:
‘wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do things for him’ (1380b36-1381a2)
This kind of love is the kind shown between siblings or very close friends, for each other. It is reciprocated. It was a common belief in the ancient world that no amount of money, status or possessions could take the place of philia.
Sometimes referred to as a lovefeast, Agape is a type of unconditional love shown within families. At that time of Christian history, it also meant the love of God for all his children. In my own nuclear family, even a regular family meal is a difficult time to have love felt across each member. Food doesn’t seem to be a way where the expression of love is felt. Sigh, but I continue to try to find the right combination.
Enduring love which has developed over time is Pragma. Not only in married couples but in long-standing friendships. This kind of love takes work and most people don’t seem to have the patience for it. Although if you ask those without pragma, they claim to want it. Pragma involves compromise and both sides working towards attaining it. Pragma is almost an agreement type of love. It doesn’t exist within one person.
The Ancient Greeks understood that in order to care for others, we must first learn to care for ourselves. Philautia is self-love in the healthiest way. You cannot give what you do not have. Fill up your cup so it overflows. This can be done with physical methods of self-care but also with kindness towards how we think of ourselves. It is all wrapped up together and not practiced very well or often enough.
Ludus seems to have been an ancient version of tinder. A domain where love can occur as a casual relationship between people who are mature and self-sufficient. Problems occur when one party mistakes ludus for eros. Since the heart drives complicated emotions in an ever-changing way, mutually understood ludus would be difficult to maintain.
When the Beatles sang, ‘all you need is love’, it seemed too simple. Critics might think, what on earth can loving everyone solve? Thinking literally about the most common English definition, romantic love is not going to save the day in all areas of conflict. But, some of the other Ancient Greek concepts could make a difference. The question is, are we ready to look across the divide, towards those we disagree with and reframe the picture with a concept of love? Can we even bear to think that way?
I truly believe that creativity doesn’t only show up in artist expression. It could be that hidden in the various ways that the concept of love is described is a way to create a more peaceful existence. Starting with one person and then radiating out from there. We can each be the change we want to see in the world and we can get there in a loving way, should we choose that route.
Join me in this creative journey. I am on a mission to start a global movement, focusing on the importance of creativity in our daily lives. Together, let us see where we can take this. I look forward to hearing from you! Please share your thoughts. Feel free to send an email to: Christine@dailycreatives.com #creaspatreat
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