I was pondering love the other day. I am blessed to be surrounded by love from family and friends. But as I pondered, I realized something that was never in my consciousness before. Love is a piss-poor word. (Excuse the French!)
How can we have a language with so many words for “pants” (trousers, slacks, jeans, dungarees, britches, and maybe more) and only one for love? Right. I hear what you’re saying; dungarees are not the same as slacks. There is a difference in materials and fit with the various words for “pants”.
And that is also the case with “love”. “I love you, Sis.” “I love the color blue.” “I love Paris.” “I love you, Honey.”
See the problem?
And the value we place on getting him to say “I love you” that first time is incredible. It’s as if him saying “I love you” comes with the whole package of now-I-am-committed-to-you-forever. Uh, how has that worked out for you?
What if, just imagine this, what if we went the Greek route? I’ve mentioned before that I studied classical Greek in college. While we didn’t spend loads of time on it, as we were translating, we would encounter words for love. Our professor allowed us to translate the word as “love” as long as we understood the nuance and the context of the word usage.
Most of us know about “agape” and “eros”. There are more Greek words for love, but we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s start with what you remember of these two “love” words.
1) Eros (EH-rohs)
Eros, of course, is the physical love, the erotic, the passionate. It doesn’t really contain any caring for the other person. It is a selfish, self-gratification word for love. Maybe “lust” is our English equivalent. But how likely would you be to hop into bed with a guy who has just admitted to you that he’s “in lust” with you? Yet, of course, to over-generalize here, many men mean just that when they say, “I love you.” And we go all giddy and and start picking out towels.
2) Agape (ah-GAH-pay)
The other Greek word for love most of us know is agape, a kind of spiritual love. Pure essence. Untainted with physicality. It is totally unselfish and giving, even when there is no love returned. Christians have laid claim to agape in many of their biblical translations and writings about loving God. For sure, your guy doesn’t love you in an agape way! I mean really! (And if he does, run. You don’t want to be literally idolized.)
So how did the Greeks account for and name other aspects of love? I’m glad you asked.
3) Ludus (LOO-dus)
The Greeks had another word for love sometimes associated with sex. Ludus is the playful variant of love. When you first fall in love with someone, you go through a giddy period of teasing, laughing at nothing, and finding joy in the presence of the one you love. One might think of it as a purer form of eros because it can become sexual, but not the gasping, grasping sex of eros. To make the definition clearer, ludus is also the love that children might share as they play and learn together. Those in ludic love might cavort and dance for no reason with anyone who comes in their path out of sheer joy.
4) Philia (FEE-lee-uh)
You have family and friends you love, but not in an eros or agape way. The Greeks named that love philia. It is a love of give and take, back and forth, warm regard and affection. Still, it is a dispassionate, pure, and virtuous love of the sort you might feel for relatives and close friends.
5) Storge (STOR-geh)
Storge is the kind of love parents feel for their children or spouses. It is deeper and more passionate than philia. It is an acceptance of flaws and a putting up with behaviors and attitudes you wouldn’t tolerate in others. Storge grows out of a familial obligation toward the object of your love, but not just that. We seem genetically wired to have a protective kind of love toward those we are related to.
6) Pragma (PRAHG-ma)
Pragma is the Greek word for the love that couples who have grown old together or who find one another as seniors have. This aging love adjusts to the partner and finds ways to compromise and support to ensure the relationship lasts. This kind of mature love has a gentler feel. It is the counterpoint to “falling in love” as this is “staying in love”.
7) Philautia (feel-OW-tee-uh)
Of course the Greeks wouldn’t neglect self-love. Philautia, however, isn’t the selfishness of self-love; it is not narcissism. Rather, if one is confident in who one is, secure in him/herself, there is more love to spread around. When one no longer worries about him/herself and how perceived, one has more to share. Philautia is really a trait to cultivate. Aristotle said, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.”
What does this mean for authors? As a novelist, understanding the nuances of love rather than mindlessly using and abusing the word can lead to more complex relationships in your stories. The Greeks didn’t believe one kind of love was superior to another. Rather, the whole person experiences a range of loves and explores the boundaries of each kind of love to create a more complete person.
Knowing the nuances of each kind of love allows you to set up situations. She’s in a ludic state while he’s in eros, so when she giggles in bed, he takes offense. How might pragma look with couples who are physically and mentally capable versus the couple dealing with dementia or cancer? Can storge love be taken to an extreme that the parent tries to justify as parental caring?
I just gave you a starter kit on kinds of love. There is much information on the Internet to extend this basic understanding. Please delve into love and see how much richer your novel’s relationships can be the Greek way.