For all the non Greek-English bilingual people out there, you should know that the ancient Greeks had 6 different words for all the different kinds of love.
- Eros, or sexual passion.
- Philia, or deep friendship.
- Ludus, or playful love.
- Agape, or love for everyone.
- Pragma, or longstanding love.
- Philautia, or love of the self.
In modern Greek we rarely use more than three of those, Eros, Philia and Agape. Philautia is still separate, though we just call it narcissism these days. And Agape is the main kind of love.
It’s interesting to note that by using a different word for each concept, even though the differences are subtle, it can change the entire meaning of what you’re trying to say.
For example, I was rewatching Mad Men and in Season 2, there’s a scene where Draper’s daughter, played by the actress of Sabrina the Teenage Witch when she was just a little girl, has a school assignment to make Valentine’s Day cards for her dad.
That made me cringe.
I’m sure that was not the intent of the scene. It was meant to be a sweet gesture, supposed to make me go “Aww…” and watch as Draper’s daughter shows how much she loves her dad.
But it didn’t reach me as intended.
Instead, since we call Valentine’s Day the Holiday of People in Love around here, Γιορτή των Ερωτευμένων (using the Eros variation of love,) giving a Valentine’s day card to daddy is as cringey as it gets. Especially to a guy who sleeps with every woman around him.
The only way to understand that concept for an English speaker is with the use of ‘in love’ instead of just plain old ‘love.’ It’s like in every scene in recent shows, some couple discusses their relationship and they say something like, “I don’t just love you. I’m in love with you.” And they swoon over each other with meaningful glances and UST.
That makes ‘in love’ equivalent to eros. A smaller, more specific kind of love, meant for people who want to rub their intimate parts together.
So, why am I writing this? Well, basically I was just thinking about how funny language is and that example I just mentioned. It always fascinates me how different cultures perceive things, and how language can become a barrier to that. There are more examples of these things from Greek to English, and they won’t make sense unless some philologist explains them to you in a lecture or three, but I think you got the gist of it.
I firmly believe that to define something is to understand it. There are literal neural pathways formed in our brains when we name and define a concept, and they are called back when that same concept is needed at a later time. Language can be a very helpful thing to expand one’s intellect and understanding of both the world and of the human condition, and as I said earlier, it can also hinder it.
As for eros, I think it should be in most stories. Agape should definitely be in all stories. I like a quote by Hugh Howey who said to other writers, ‘Learn to inject love in your stories.’ In the screenwriting book ‘Save the Cat,’ he uses the category of ‘Buddy Love’ for both friend and love stories, since they use the same story arc. That is one of the specialised examples of the limitations of language I was talking about. When you describe it as Philia being pretty much the same as Eros story-wise, then you can instantly grab the concept. But Blake Snyder, having only a few words to play with, has to spell out the concept over many pages so it gets through to the prospective writer.
No wonder Shakespeare just went ahead and invented words of his own.
I’ve been writing lots of different kinds of love stories these past few years. Some are nice and sweet, more like a romantic comedy, and some are really steamy, even with multiple partners sometimes. You can find most of them on the Mythography Shop, and there’s a sale for Valentine’s Day here.