Ancient Greek and types of love
Peter Muijres | Culture Class .org
A terrorist attack by radicalised Muslims in London during the holy month of Ramadan (Mai 26th – June 24th 2017) adds another reason to have a look at differences in the experience and different types of ‘love’. And this time from the perspective of the ancient Greek, who believed that one type of love cannot be all encompassing, regardless of how passionate and carried away you might be about your community, a romantic partner or even a god.
The ancient Greek identified many different gods and types of love, who were all living in coexistence. Of over 30 types of love, 7 are explained below.
- Agape is the love of humanity. It’s the kind of love which makes us sorrowful when we hear of a crisis in another country or in our own. It makes us contribute our time, money, bodies to the good cause and makes us feel connected to people we don’t know simply on the basis of our shared experience as human beings.
- Philia refers to the love which comes from shared experience. It’s the love we feel for the people we strive with to achieve a shared goal – our co-workers, the players in a football team, and the soldiers in an army.
The Philia most prized by the Greeks was the profound friendship that developed between comrades who had fought side by side on the battlefield. They considered themselves as equals, and would not only share their personal worries but also display extreme loyalty, helping one another in times of need without expecting anything in return.”
- Pragma is the love which endures. It is the love between a married couple which develops over a long period, the love which endures in sickness and in health. It’s the care a child gives to a sick parent and the love which makes a friend care for her old school friend who has become vulnerable in later life.
In the 1950s the psychologist Erich Fromm made a distinction between ‘falling in love’ and ‘standing in love’. He said we spend too much energy on the falling and should focus more on the standing, which is primarily about giving love rather than receiving it. Pragma is at the core of this idea of standing in love.
- About Philautia: there is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt. Philautia is the love we give to ourselves. This is not only vanity, like narcissism, but our joy in having self-respect and being true to our own values. If we have the strength to care for ourselves, we can in turn care for others.
“All friendly feelings for others, wrote Aristotle, are extensions of a man’s feelings for himself.” The message is that we must first ‘own’ ourselves by accepting our strengths and weaknesses, before we can give ourselves away again and love others. You can’t give away what you don’t own. But when you like yourself and feel secure in yourself then you will have plenty of love to give without fear, envy, greed, or having to prove yourself coming in the way. If you know what makes you happy, then you will be in a astronger postion to find a way of extending that happiness to those around you. If, on the other hand, you are uncomfortable with who you are, or harbour some self-loathing, then you will have little love to offer others”.
- Ludus means flirting or playful affection. It’s the feelings we have when we test out what it may be like to be in love with someone – the fluttering heart and feelings of euphoria; the slightly dangerous feeling.
- Eros means romantic and erotic love. This one is based on sex and powerful magnetism. It’s the one which can get us into the most trouble. It can turn into other kinds of love – like pragma – but it starts as romance and attraction.
- Storge is the love members of a family have for each other. It’s the love a parent has for a child or a child has for a favourite aunty or uncle, the love a foster parent feels for the children in her care and the love a grandparent feels for the child adopted by his son and daughter-in-law.
When one kind of love grows and turns into a passion, other types of love are sometimes forgotten about. However, keep in mind that love is a quality and as such can’t be boxed in, measured or compared. One type of love may precede, change into or be a condition for the existence of other types of love.
Love turning into passion might make other types of love appear inferior or less desirable. The ancient Greek show that love does not survive in isolation or can be understood within a hierarchy, but thrives in quality and diversity: in the qualities of the life that we share together.