~ October 2021~ During those first few weeks of a new romance, we constantly crave the state of ecstasy we reach when our crush is near, yet we can dive into deep despair if we feel as though our feelings aren’t reciprocated. American anthropologist Helen Fisher likened the experience to “someone camping out in your head;” nothing can distract you from the feeling of longing to hold them close.
A rush of euphoria hits hard when we fall in love, and is stimulated by a release of the feel-good chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine into the same part of the brain that’s associated with wanting, motivation, focus and craving.
We call it falling in love, but isn’t this initial rush just lust? If so, then what is love?
We use the single word “love” to describe our relationships in very different contexts. From the love we have for our parents and siblings to our affection for our closest friends. We tell our partners “I love you” and then sign an email with “love from.” How can one word define so many different feelings?
Ancient Greek society recognized that there are many kinds of love. There are eight Greek words for love, in fact, and defining each allows us to fully interpret the context of the love we feel for others.
Greek words for love and what they mean
1. Eros: Sexual passion
The first kind of love the Greek’s defined was eros, named after the Greek god of carnal love and fertility. It represents sexual passion and desire and is the root of the word erotic.
Today we associate this feeling with falling in love, as something exhilarating and exciting, but this wasn’t so for the ancient Greeks. For them, eros was a terrifying state of being, a kind of madness or theia mania (madness from the gods) that overwhelmed them with lust and longing. Perhaps this is where we get the phrase “falling madly in love?”
2. Philia: Deep friendship
The second kind of love was philia, an affectionate love or deep friendship. In ancient Greek society, this was valued far greater than eros as it was considered love of equal terms—and one without the trappings of sexual attraction.
Born from an appreciation of one another, philia is a kind of love that endures within long-standing friendships and is present between parents and their children. It represents the loyalty and sacrifices made for those we care about and the sense of comradery we feel toward those we take into our trust.
The Greek philosopher Plato believed that carnal attraction detracted from the true path to philia, and that physical attraction was not a necessary part of love. Hence, we use the word platonic to refer to the affection felt between friends.
3. Ludus: Playful love
While the thought of eros sent the ancient Greeks into a frenzied hysteria, ludus was rooted in fun and came entirely without a sense of obligation.
Ludus could mean the playful love between children, but it was more often termed as the flirtation between casual lovers—it represents the excitement of the early stages of a relationship. When you sit at a bar drinking cocktails with friends, flirt with a stranger, or engage in a holiday fling your carefree attitude is fueled by feelings of ludus.
Of all the Greek words for love, this one is most associated with embracing the moment. Playfulness is often lost in the later stages of romantic relationships yet it’s an essential ingredient that keeps the innocence of true love alive.
4. Agape: Love for everyone
As an empathetic love that is extended to everyone—family, friends and strangers alike—agape is a selfless love that, today, is seldom offered as frequently as it should.
Translated into Latin as caritas and forming the root of the word charity, agape is a pay-it-forward approach to love, where you show a universal kindness to others and offer to understand to those in need.
C.S. Lewis referred to it as “gift love,” the highest form of Christian love.
5. Pragma: Long-standing love
Although there is little evidence to suggest that the ancient Greeks frequently used pragma to define love, it came into popularity in the 20th century to describe healthy, long-term relationships.
A deep connection between two friends or lovers, pragma is a mature and realistic love that stems from the deep understanding and unique harmony of fated souls. It’s about showing patience, tolerance and compromise to foster a deep connection with the people you care about the most.
Pragma doesn’t burst into existence like eros or ludus, it burns slowly, intensifying over time and can only endure if both sides continually work to keep it alight.
6. Philautia: Love of the self
Aristotle wrote, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.” He was not alone in those sentiments. The ancient Greeks classed philautia as one of the most important kinds of love because they recognized that you cannot share what you do not have. Without love for yourself, you cannot begin to extend feelings of love, in any form, to anyone else.
Unlike the thought motivators of vanity and self-obsession that are unhealthy applications of philautia, self-love—feeling comfortable in your own skin and allowing your self-confidence to grow because of your experiences—affirms self-compassion.
7. Storge: Familial love
Storge is the primal, protective love we all feel for members of our family and for those friends for whom we also feel philia love.
This kind of love is rooted in kinship and allegiance. It’s the unspoken bond between two people that transcends both friendship and sexual attraction because it is driven by familiarity, belonging and dependency.
Storge may appear as one-way love, such as when a mother loves her newborn child unconditionally despite the child being unaware of its emotions, or when a child loves their sibling even though they do not get along.
8. Mania: Obsessive love
As its name suggests, feelings of mania evoke madness. This version of Greek love usually stems from uncontrollable eros and a lack of healthy philautia.
Mania violently attacks its subjects from within and pushes them toward stalking behaviors and codependency; it can also incite extreme jealousy. This kind of love isn’t to be encouraged and if you or someone you love begins to exhibit symptoms of mania it’s best to get help and rebalance.
The ancient Greeks’ interpretation of our inner psyche offers insight into the many facets of the love we feel for others and could help us to recognize that we have a lot more love in our lives than we had previously acknowledged.