Love (2): the words to describe it




Amore e Psiche – Antonio Canova


Love, as we all know, is full of prodigies. It is a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes Sometimes, their number depends on the language. The Ancient Greeks, for example, had around 30 words to describe love in all its manifestations, whereas in modern English and many other languages the same word is employed to describe everything from romantic attachment and erotic desire, to the sentiment a parent feels for their child, and the bonds of community.

In Ancient Greek there were four main words to express it: agápe, philía, éros, and storgē.. Even though it is historically difficult to separate the meanings of these words when utilized outside of their respective contexts, here is a simple description:

Agápe (love intended as charity, the love of God for man and of man for God) was used in ancient texts to denote feelings for one’s children and the feelings for a spouse. It also referred to a love feast. For Christians the word expresses the unconditional love of God for his children

Philia (shared experience, friendship) is a dispassionate virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle who was not interested in erotic love, but in philia. For him it meant loyalty to friends (specifically, brotherly love), family, and community, and required virtue, equality, and familiarity

Éros (romantic and erotic love). According to Plato , Eros was initially felt for a person, and the contemplation of their beauty became also appreciation of beauty in general: physical attraction was not a necessary part. For this reason the adjective platonic is used to mean, “without physical attraction.” Platonic love is therefore a type of love that is non-sexual. According to Plato it was philia that was born out of erôs, and in turn got back into erôs to strengthen and develop it. (The philosopher actually meant a kind of love centered on same-gender relations and included sex, but the term platonic underwent a transformation during Renaissance – 15th and 16th centuries – to get its contemporary sense of asexual heterosexual love)

Storge (family love, affection)

We have to mention also Xenia, (hospitality), which was an extremely important practice, a sort of ritualized friendship, whose importance is seen throughout Greek mythology, and in particular, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

Also the Latin language had several different verbs corresponding to the verb ” to love.”

amare still used in Italian.. The Romans employed it in an affectionate sense as well as in a romantic or sexual sense. The corresponding noun is amor, and Roma can be viewed as its anagram
placere or delectāre, which are similar to like; the latter is frequently seen in the love poetry of Catullus.
Diligere, meaning to be affectionate for, to esteem, rarely used for romantic love.

Caritas (a noun, because there is not a corresponding verb) is used in Latin translations of the Christian Bible to mean charitable love; a meaning which is not found in Classical pagan Roman literature.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s