The English language has only one word for love, and is used synonymously for almost everything. One can say “I love my wife” and “I love a good dessert”. Both are using the same word but it is the context that provides the difference in meaning. The Greeks, on the other hand, have four different words to describe love and its different nuances so that we can expand the bandwidth and understanding of this powerful word and heartfelt emotions.
Eros is the first type of love that we are most familiar with. The English word “Erotica” is derived from the word Eros. Sadly, some people never go beyond this type of love and base their relationships purely on sexual attraction. Many purveyors of products will use, for example aromatherapy as a means for attracting the opposite sex.
There have been several studies that have attempted to prove the theory of attraction through pheromones. However, it is believed that the attraction of a mate or life partner is based more on character, friendship, mutual interests and physical attraction than on the basis of his or her smell.
Perhaps the point of erotic love is mostly superficial and based on sexual attractiveness only, rather than on a much more deeper and meaningful love.
Storge is a different octave of love that is found in families, between the different members. It is the love of mother, father, brothers and sisters. It is a much stronger type of love and involves commitment and gives rise to the expression “Blood is thicker than water” and most people would do anything to stand behind and support their families.
Philia pertains to what could be called brotherly love. Not brotherly in the sense of storge or family, but more in the sense of kinship. This is the type of love that wants us to help a fragile lady cross the street safely or become part of a neighborhood watch and protection volunteer group.
It is a good type of love and helps us to see others as needing our love. Sadly, however, it often can be a selfish love and some people only show love to others if they can get something out of it in return. Thankfully, most people show love more out of altruistic motives rather than selfish ones.
Agape is the highest and most sublime form of love there is. This is an unconditional form of love where we love others despite their character flaws and weaknesses. In order to express love in the agape way, we must set our selfishness aside and look to serve the needs of others. Prime examples of this type of love are people like Mother Theresa and the 16 year old Pakistani school girl Malala who was shot in the head by the Taliban gunmen for her defending the right of girls to be educated. We can only achieve this type of unselfish loving as we put the needs of others as a priority.
A verse from the Bible is called The Golden Rule. Luke 10:27 states “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Sadly, however, many people in this day and age don’t love themselves. How can you give away what you don’t have? Unconditional love has to start with you. As you learn to love yourself in spite of your shortcomings, you will find it easier to love others.
Damon and Pythius is the story of unconditional love and friendship between two young Greek men who were students of Pythagoras – the founder of geometry. One of them ran into trouble with Draco, a lawgiver in Athens and was put into prison and sentenced to death (the word Draconian comes from Draco who was known for unusually harsh punishments).
The young philosopher in prison (Damon) wanted to put his family’s affairs in order before his execution. Draco agreed, providing his friend Pythius would take his place in case Damon would run away. In other words, Pythius agreed to forfeit his life for his friend.
Draco was so surprised when Damon returned in time to face his execution that he released both men. He was so impressed with the degree of friendship and love between the two men that he asked to join them as a third friend.
Pythius understood and accepted that he would be executed should his friend Damon not return in time. As Pythagorus, their teacher later remarked – “there can be no greater love than when one man is willing to sacrifice his life for a friend”. Thus, the story of Damon and Pythius stands as an exemplary archetype for the true meaning of love without conditions.
I have often wondered if one of the reasons we have chosen to come aboard spaceship Earth is to learn about love – to love unconditionally without any form of judgement – and perhaps, equally important – to feel worthy and deserving of receiving love.
There is only one substance in the world that the more you give away, the more you get back – and that is LOVE!
Lee Pulos, Ph.D., ABPP