Definitions

Greek words for love

Greek words for love

There are a number of different Greek words for love, as the Greek language distinguishes how the word is used. Ancient Greek has three distinct words for love: eros, philia, and agape. 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.

  • Eros (ἔρως 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 love of friendship. It can also apply to dating relationships as well as marriage. Plato refined his own definition. Although eros is initially felt for a person, with contemplation it becomes an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even becomes appreciation of beauty itself. It should be noted Plato does not talk of physical attraction as a necessary part of love, hence the use of the word platonic to mean, "without physical attraction". 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. The most famous ancient work on the subject of eros is Plato's Symposium, which is a discussion among the students of Socrates on the nature of eros.
  • Philia (φιλία philía), which means friendship in modern Greek, a dispassionate virtuous love, was a concept developed by Aristotle. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. In ancient texts, philia 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. This is the only other word for "love" used in the ancient text of the New Testament besides agape, but even then it is used substantially less frequently.
  • Agapē (ἀγάπη 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 rather than the attraction suggested by "eros"; agape is used in ancient texts to denote feelings for a good meal, one's children, and the feelings for a spouse. It can be described as the feeling of being content or holding one in high regard. The verb appears in the New Testament describing, amongst other things, the relationship between Jesus and the beloved disciple. In biblical literature, its meaning and usage is illustrated by self-sacrificing, giving love to all--both friend and enemy. It is used in Matthew 22:39, "Love your neighbour as yourself," and in John 15:12, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you," and in 1 John 4:8, "God is love." However, the word "agape" is not always used in the New Testament in a positive sense. II Timothy 4:10 uses the word in a negative sense. The Apostle Paul writes,"For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved (agapo) this present world...." Thus the word "agape" is not always used of a divine love or the love of God. Christian commentators have expanded the original Greek definition to encompass a total commitment or self-sacrificial love for the thing loved. Because of its frequency of use in the New Testament, Christian writers have developed a significant amount of theology based solely on the interpretation of this word.
  • Storge (στοργή storgē) means "affection" in 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.
  • Thelema (θέλημα thélēma) means "desire" in modern Greek; it is the desire to do something, to be occupied, to be in prominence.

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