Almost all of us at some point have used love to describe something which we actually like. English has the two verbs ‘love’ and ‘like’ while French must simply get on with the verb ‘aimer’ for both. Very often the actual English usage of love however is used to talk everyday about ‘loving’ food, a game or a hobby. In fact there is continuity between both (we normally like something, before we love it) but both words have different meanings.

For our word ‘love’, there are several Greek words, as the Greek language distinguishes how the word is used. Ancient Greek has four distinct words for love: agápe,éros, philía, and storgē. However, as with other languages, it has been historically difficult to separate the meanings of these words. Nonetheless, the senses in which these words were generally used are given below. We shall consider these in more detail in the coming days:

Agápe (αγάπη agápē) means “love” in modern day Greek, such as in the term s’agapo (Σ’αγαπώ), which means “I love you”. In Ancient Greek, it often refers to a general affection or deeper sense of “true love” rather than the attraction suggested by “eros”. Agape is used in the biblical passage known as the “love chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13, and is described there and throughout the New Testament as sacrificial love.

Éros (έρως érōs) is passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. The Modern Greek word “erotas” means “(romantic) love;” however, eros does not have to be sexual in nature. Eros can be interpreted as a love for someone whom you love more than the philia. Plato also said eros helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth. Lovers and philosophers are all inspired to seek truth by eros.

Philia (φιλία philía) means friendship in modern Greek. It is a dispassionate virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. In ancient texts, philos denoted a general type of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity, as well as between lovers.

Storge (στοργή storgē) means “affection” in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring. Rarely used in ancient works, and then almost exclusively as a descriptor of relationships within the family. It is also known to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations, as in “loving” the tyrant.

Tomorrow we will look at storge in more details.

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