Valentine's Day is typically a day of romantic, sweep-them-of-their-feet, head-over-heels gestures. It’s a day of flowers, chocolates and candlelight dinners, shared between two lovebirds. But our modern understanding of love is far more limited than the variety of concepts the Ancient Greeks had at their disposal. Although we speak of platonic and parental love, love is an emotion that is often too narrowly confined to merely romance, hearts and cupid. Our ancient forefathers and mothers, on the other hand, had a rich bouquet of vocabulary to cover this most powerful of human emotions: eros, philia, ludus, agape, pragma and philautia. From lust and desire to trust and companionship, they all shape our lives. So here’s to love, in all its forms.
1. Pure passion
In Greek mythology, Eros was the god of lust and sexual desire. So far so good, you may be thinking. However, passion and desire were not always regarded as positive emotions. Eros was also seen as a dangerous, irrational form of love—one in which you could lose yourself, one that could take hold of you. Ever been madly in love? Nowadays, eros is often presented as the one true love—and Hollywood certainly has its part to play in that. But is that all we really want from our relationships or is there more to love than that?
2. True friendship
Philia is often translated as “brotherly love”, but there’s no reason why women should feel excluded from this most vital of human bonds. It’s a form of love in which two people stick by each other—through the ups and downs, the thick and thin. It’s about heart-to-hearts and going the extra mile. Ring a bell? Chances are, this sounds like the relationship you have with your best friend—someone you can always count on, who’s always there for you. Hand in hand, you go through life, tackling everything the universe throws your way. And that’s love, pure and simple.
3. Playful love
Fun, kittenish and a tad flirtatious, ludus was the Ancient Greek’s concept of playful love. From teasing kids to toying lovebirds, it’s the stuff of rose-tinted glasses and laughter. But ludus isn’t just for couples—it’s a night out on town with the girls, a boogie on the dancefloor with a stranger, a Saturday night.
The Greek word for selfless love—agape—was later to translated into Latin as caritas, from which we get our modern word for charity. It’s a love free of obligations and expectations, a love extended to all. It says, I love you even when you’re not very lovable. It’s our capacity to care for family, friends and strangers alike—unconditionally and always. It’s donating a few quid to support refugees. Or helping an old lady across the road. It’s human solidarity in its finest form. And a touch of empathy goes a long way to making our world that little bit more beautiful.
5. Deep, mature bonds
Are your parents still happy together after all those years? Or perhaps they’ve found someone new and remarried? Maybe you’re settled in a stable, long-term relationship? The Greeks called this more mature love pragma—a form of love that needs time to ripen, that spouses develop over a longer period of time. It's about making compromises, being patient and accepting from the other person for who they are. Pragma requires hard work—as they say, love isn’t all sunshine and roses. But being together for so long and still loving each other is something to be truly cherished indeed.
6. Love thy self
Self-love—or philautia—can go one of two ways. The unhealthy version leads to narcissism, whereas the healthy form enables you to love others. After all, in a balanced relationship, you need to know what you want. You can’t simply be different for someone else—you have to listen to your own thoughts, feelings and needs. Simply put: if you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else?! So what better reason for skipping that Valentine's Tinder date. This year, it’s all about me-time! Bath in candlelight, with a good glass of red in one hand and a Daphne du Maurier novel in the other. Pro-tip? Shower yourself with gifts—why not treat yourself to something beautiful from our collection of Valentine’s Day gifts for you?
From erotic desire to solid friendships, from a long and happy marriage to just doing some good in the world—love is simply everywhere. Celebrate love in all its forms this Valentine’s Day and every year for the rest of eternity. And, with a whole lot of looove and a bit of art, together we can make the world a touch more beautiful.
Text: Laura Veneklaas
Translation: Nicholas Potter