All you need is love — and according to the Ancient Greeks, there are many different kinds of love. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, find out about the 7 kinds of love and their meanings, and how to apply them to your life!
Love: Ancient vs. Modern
Love. What did the Ancient Greeks say about love? They had many different names and meanings for love, and most likely, more than one of them can be applied to your life right now. This Valentine’s Day, many will celebrate by showering their significant others with love. Others, unfortunately, will despairingly focus on the loves they DON’T have or wish they had. Fortunately, thanks to the ancients, if you’re one of the former, don’t despair!
The English language has only one word to describe the multifaceted dimensions of this feeling. The ancient Greeks, in pursuit of wisdom and self-understanding, had at least seven different names and meanings. And while today’s Valentine’s Day seems to focus only on one type of love (what we know as romantic), knowing the ancients different forms of loves, can help everyone celebrate and form a deeper connection with those around us.
Let’s see what the ancients had to say about love.
Ancient Greeks identified 7 different kinds of love. IMAGE: PIXABAY.COM
Ancient Greeks: 7 types of love
1. Eros (sexual passion)
Named after the Greek god of fertility, eros represents the idea of sexual passion and desire. It’s the type of love many adults think of when celebrating Valentine’s Day and is generally viewed as positive. Ancients believed that it was a beautiful and idealistic form of love, particularly in the “spiritually mature.” To maintain itself, eros needs to constantly be cultivated and fanned through one of the deeper forms of love listed below.
There is a dark side to eros as well. It can be dangerous, fiery, and irrational. It was believed that it could even possess you! It’s considered a primal and powerful fire that burns out quickly. Additionally, it can also involve a “loss of control” through the “primal impulse to procreate.”
2. Philia (deep friendship)
Friendship, called philia, is about showing loyalty to your friends, and sacrificing for them, as well as sharing your emotions with them.
The ancient Greeks valued philia far above eros because it was considered a love between equals. It’s a love without physical sexual attraction and often felt among friends who’ve endured hard times together. Feelings of loyalty among friends, camaraderie among teammates, and the sense of sacrifice for your pack are all examples of philia.
3. Storgi (familiar love, sometimes referred to as philia)
Although storgi closely resembles philia in that it is a love without physical attraction, storgi primarily characterizes kinship and familiarity and the love found between parents and children. Storgi can also be found among childhood friends that is later shared as adults.
Storgi was considered a powerful form of love but can also become an obstacle in our personal development, particularly when our family or friends don’t align with or support our journey. When we express mere acceptance, or putting up with situations, as in “loving the tyrant” we demonstrate storgi love. This type of love can also be used when referencing the love for one’s country or a favorite sports team.
4. Ludus (playful love)
This type of love refers to the affection between children or young lovers; the teasing in the early stages of a relationship. It’s that feeling we have when we go through the early stages of falling in love with someone, e.g. the fluttering heart, flirting, and feelings of euphoria. It can be seen in the traditional classroom Valentine cards that are often passed out every year. Ludus can be seen when we sit around in a bar and/or drinking coffee with friends, laughing and having a good time.
Ludus is an essential ingredient that is often lost in long-term relationships. It’s a type of love that needs to be actively maintained.
FUN FACT: Ever wonder where the statement of finding your “other half” originated from? Greek mythology of course! Grossly oversimplified, the myth describes three kinds of human beings: male, descended from the sun; female, descended from the earth; and androgynous, with both male and female elements, descended from the moon. Each human being was completely round, with four arms and four legs, two identical faces on opposite sides of a head with four ears, and all else to match. They walked both forwards and backwards and ran by turning cartwheels on their eight limbs.
They were powerful and unruly and threatening to scale the heavens so Zeus (the king of the gods) cut them into two! Apollo (the god of light) then turned their heads to make them face toward their wound, pulled their skin around to cover up the wound, and tied it together at the navel like a purse. After that, human beings longed for their other half so much that they searched for it all over and, when they found it, wrapped themselves around it very tightly and never let go.
~ Plato, Symposium, The Myth of Aristophanes
5. Agape (selfless love/love for everyone)
Agape is the selfless, unconditional love. This type of love is extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. Agape is actually the origin of our word “charity.”
Some have referred to this type of love as the highest form of Christian love or “universal loving kindness.” It’s unconditional, bigger than ourselves. It’s the purest form of love that is free from desires and expectations. Agape is the love that accepts, forgives, and believes in the greater good in everyone.
6. Pragma (longstanding love)
Pragma is a mature form of love. It’s a deep understanding that develops between long-married couples. This type of love ages, matures, and grows over time. Another example is friendships that have endured for decades. Pragma is about making compromises and showing patience and tolerance. It’s about “standing” in love—making an effort to give love rather than just receive it. Unlike the other types of love, pragma is the result of effort on both sides.
7. Philautia (love of the self)
Self-love, called philautia has two forms. One is unhealthy, associated with narcissism (self-obsessed and focused on personal fame and fortune). The other is healthy (what we strive for) that enhances our wider capacity to love.
Philautia encompasses the idea that if you like yourself and feel secure in yourself, you will have plenty of love to give others. By having unconditional love for yourself, you can then understand and truly know yourself; only then can you express philautia (for a more detailed explanation on philautia see here).
Practicing the art of love
So, this Valentine’s Day, follow the wisdom of the ancients, and express your love in all ways, not just one. Use these words and map out your versions of your own “loves” and if areas are lacking or nonexistent, work on cultivating, growing, and using them. All forms of love are needed throughout our lives and identifying them is the first step towards acquiring them. Thanks to the wisdom of the Ancient Greeks, you’ll most likely realize that you have a lot more “love” in your life than previously thought; giving you much more reason to celebrate not only on Valentine’s Day, but every day.
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Read more from Roula Marinos Papamihail, MA, CHHC, FDN-P