Hellion Magazine - The Eight Types of Love, est. 470 BC

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(Art By Lalonie Davis)


The Eight Types of Love, est. 470 BC

By Christi Danner

February 9th 2017


Love is one of the most powerful forces on Earth and also the defining feature of mankind. Of course mankind’s other defining feature, the tendency to over-analyze, means that the first thing we must do with love is attempt to understand it. Maybe if we can divide this invisible force into several categories we can come to understand the profound influence it holds in our lives. The Ancient Greeks thought this was worth a shot, and consequently our contemporary Western understanding of the different types of love is very much based upon Greek words and philosophy.

When you say the word “love” most people’s minds jump to romance, yet this seductive form dominates love only in our modern culture. Our obsession with romance causes us to define many of our relationships as simply not romantic or romantic, rather than as meaningful connections with any nuance. This is why when someone mistakes your friend for your date you clarify with, “no, our friendship is Platonic.” Plato, however, did not walk around Athens preaching that men and women could go to the spa together without it being weird. Instead, he talked about a much broader idea of love. When we say “platonic love,” we don’t mean love that isn’t romantic; we mean love that can take many different forms among many different people. Plato’s idea of “Platonic Love” is love elevated beyond any of the types he described. Like Aristotle, Plato considered pure love as a sharing of two souls, whether it be between lovers, friends, family, or neighbors. The ancient Greeks came to agree upon eight different types of love.

From these eight categories, four Greek words would be translated directly to “love” in English. Let us begin with these four fundamental words; eros, philia, storge, and agape.

As you may guess due to its similarity to the word “erotic,” Eros can be equivalent to lust or sexual desire, but more generally describes love that causes you to feel strong emotion. You might also recognize the word as another name for the god Cupid. Eros is the madness that drives the initial stages of falling in love and it is also the most visibly intense type of love. For Socrates, eros required a perpetual balance between having something or someone and wanting that same thing or person. The jealous push and pull creates a machine of mad possession. Socrates even described the pursuit of wisdom as erotic, in the sense that for a person to become wise, they must admit that they do not know what they previously held true. Only through a thirsty desire for knowledge does a person arrive at the realization that they have no knowledge, which is of course the definition of wisdom. Just like the first passionate weeks of a new relationship are fraught with a painful fear of losing your beloved, the acquisition of wisdom is a path strewn with shredded notions.

Quite different from the flames of eros is the solid ground called friendship, or “philia.” Scholars have debated the precise nature of philia as it was understood by the ancient Greeks although they agree that it is characterized by reciprocity, You wish for the good of your friend, and your friend must feel the same way towards you. Friendship is characterized by what we’re willing to do for a person, whether it be listen to their hour-long diatribe, let them drink your last beer, or even (God forbid) help them move. You show your philia through this type of service, but the catch is that your friend must be willing to do the same things for you. If you’ve ever heard the joke that goes something like: “A friend bails you out of jail. A true friend is sitting in the cell with you,” that is philia in a nutshell. Aristotle discussed this friendship love in “Nicomachean Ethics.” He emphasized that philia is more about intention rather than intensity of feeling, meaning that sometimes we show friendship out of a sense of obligation rather than genuine affection. That’s okay. You probably didn’t want to end up in that prison cell with your friend, but your undying loyalty necessitated you to help them kidnap a crown prince for great ransom (so they could pay back their student loans of course).

If eros is fire and philia is earth, storge would be life-giving water. Omnipresent in most human relationships, this love grown from familiarity can be seen most often among family members. Storge (along with our fourth type of love, agape) is not discussed in the writings of Plato or Aristotle, even though they are Greek terms. Both storge and agape gained popularity as concepts after C.S. Lewis published “The Four Loves” in 1971. Christian discourse has kept these terms afloat in the mainstream since then. In many accounts of the types of love, though, storge receives little attention. Perhaps this is due to its non-glamourous nature. Even the word “storge” itself sounds humble; as I type this, Microsoft Word is insisting that it’s not a word, while eros, philia, and agape have gone unhindered by spell check. With most other types of love, we are granted freedom to select the object of our affection. With storge, our love grows from simply being around the person. Even if you don’t see eye-to-eye with your parents, or you find your cousin weird and possibly a little bit scary, chances are you would say that you have love for these people just because they’re your family. C.S. Lewis describes Storge as the most natural form of love, present even in birds who build nests for their young. Many people, though, perceive storge as something borne solely out of duty or even resent its inherent obligation. In this sense, storge can become vulnerable.

Contrary to storge, C.S. Lewis describes agape it as the least natural form of love. Christians consider it to be the highest form of love in that it requires nondiscriminatory goodwill for all of mankind-- it is known by many as charity. We would have a difficult time finding agape in the animal kingdom. Most people would agree that lions do not commit acts of charity and that zebras do not consider what is best for zebra-kind. Agape, often a sacrificial love, is a major concept within religious circles, yet many people hold the sentiment. The concept of agape is central to many social movements even when the word itself is not used. Perhaps secularism has obscured the term in popular discourse. Throughout history people have dedicated their time, energy, and lives to defending the human rights of other, more oppressed people. The critical point to make is that these movements are a display of love for the sake of humanity that many people involved in the same cause will never even have the opportunity to meet.

Let’s take a minute to look at the secondary types of love before returning to agape, which I believe is especially relevant today.

Ludus is the ancient Greek word that means play, game, or sport. It has come to describe any relationship that is lighthearted and playful; from flirting at the bar to a booty call. As with all forms of love, though, ludus is not automatically benign due to the fact that it’s intended to be casual. The largest arena where gladiators fought in Ancient Rome was called “Ludus Magnus,” after all, and we all can imagine how much fun plenty of men had in the ring there. Flirt with caution-- you never know when the one you intend for conquest will instead conquer you.

Pragma is in many ways the opposite of ludus. Rather than a noncommittal relationship based on fun, pragmatic lovers seek one another for practical and boring reasons. Pragmatic relationships are usually shallow, but committed. These people are together in order to form a functioning team, usually to raise a family. Most people hope that a love built upon pragma develops into something more substantial, although this is not always the case.

You could guess what mania is even without me having to spell it out for you. Manic love is jealous, possessive, and destructive. Its exhilarating highs are followed by devastating lows in a cycle that most people cannot maintain for long. If you’ve ever had (or been) a crazed stalker, you’ve experienced mania.

Philautia, or self-love, is the final type of love I wish to cover here. Philautia is in constant flux with our ability to properly enact any of the other types of love that we give to other people. Without enough philautia, we find ourselves too weak to properly love others. Insecurity causes us to avoid our friends, family, and community. An excess of Philautia, though, causes a person to become narcissistic. This, too, destroys other love relationships if the person begins to care more about themself than anyone around them.

Like the story of Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection, our own generation is often accused of self-obsession. This is especially apparent in selfie culture, where we curate our own image and impatiently wait for positive feedback online. Though this sort of culture can become self-serving, I don’t believe that selfies negatively impact society or our ability to love others. I would argue, though, that malignant forms of philautia do manifest in our generational habits. I see narcissism more often in passive ways, when self-love is used as an excuse ignore other people. A great example of this is the phenomenon known as “ghosting.”

When you go on a date with someone and don’t feel the vibe, you’re probably lacking eros: the desire to leap across the table and tear their shirt off. You might also be lacking philia, which means you aren’t that interested in their labyrinthine knowledge of the Kardashian family. It could even be a lack of ludus or pragma. However, when you depart from the date, immediately change their name in your phone to “bad haircut,” and proceed to spend the next two weeks ignoring their texts-- you’re sending the rejected person a message more insulting than romantic disinterest. You fail to grant them the most fundamental type of love, the love for humanity; agape. When you ghost a bad date, it’s not just that you weren’t feeling the love, that you didn’t want to marry them, have their children, or even see them naked. When you ghost someone, you’re telling them that you don’t care about their fundamental humanity. As far as you’re concerned, they aren’t worth the minute of discomfort it would take to send a “sorry, not interested” text.

We’ve come to tell ourselves that it’s okay to ignore other people if they don’t suit our needs or desires. Maybe this is a result of the fact that communication seems expendable when we hold our smart phones in our hands all day and night, or maybe it’s a sign of something deeper. Maybe this is simple human nature. Ghosting a date is a small example of one of the ways we allow other peoples’ humanity to become invisible to us. These are things we are all guilty of: not texting back, pretending not to see an acquaintance to avoid small talk, walking past a homeless man on the street without making eye contact. Excessive philautia drives these passive instances of non-love. Instead of recognizing only people who we find attractive in some way, let’s try to be present and accessible to the people in our lives in the spirit of agape. Perhaps the choice to show love by exiting our shell and whole-heartedly recognizing those around us could be a first step toward healing the fractures within our society.