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Ancient Greek 7 Types of Love

We all seem to crave a romantic love, but few of us realize that it is far from being timeless and universal. Romantic love, rather, is a modern construct, one that emerged in tandem with what we read in novels. But there are many other ways to love, not all of which are consistent or consonant with romantic love. By preoccupying ourselves with romantic love, we tend to neglect other types of love that tend to be more accessible and that may, in the long term prove more healing and fulfilling. Here are seven types of love which are loosely based on classical readings, especially of Plato and Aristotle, and on J.A. Lee's 1973 book Colors of Love.  

1. Eros

the 7 types of love

Eros is a sexual and passionate love and is most akin to our modern construct of romantic love. In Greek mythology, it is a form of madness that is brought by one of Cupid's arrows. When the arrow breeches us we fall in love, just like Paris did with Helen which led to the Trojan War and the downfall of Troy along with much of the assembled Greek army. In modern times, eros is perceived with the broader life force, something akin to Schopenhauer's will, a fundamentally blind process of striving for survival and reproduction. 

2. Philia

Philia or friendship is shared goodwill. According to Aristotle, a person can bear goodwill to another for one of three reasons: he is useful, he is pleasant, and above all, he is good. Friendships founded on goodness are associated not only with mutual benefit but also with companionship, dependability, and trust. For Plato, the best kind of friendship is that which lovers have for each other. This love is a philia love born out of eros.

In turn, it feeds back into eros to strengthen and develop it, transforming it from a lust for possession into a shared desire for a higher level of understanding of the self, the other and the world. Philia, therefore, transforms eros from a lust for possession into an impulse for philosophy.  Real friends seek to live a truer, fuller life by relating to each other authentically and teaching each other about the limitations of their beliefs as well as the defects in their character. They become each other's therapist.

3. Storge

the 7 types of love

This is a familial love. It is the love that exists between parents and their children. It differs from most philia as it tends, especially with younger children, to be unilateral or asymmetrical. It is the fondness born out of familiarity or dependency, and unlike eros or philia, it does not hang on our personal qualities. During the initial stages of a romantic relationship, people expect unconditional storge, but they find only the need and dependency of eros, and if they are lucky, the maturity and fertility of philia. With enough time, eros can develop into storge. 

4. Agape

This is a universal love. It is the love that we have for strangers, nature or God. It does not depend on filiation or familiarity. It is also called charity (as viewed by Christian thinkers). It can be said to encompass the modern concept of altruism, which is defined as unselfish concern for the welfare of others. Recent studies have linked altruism with a number of benefits. In the short term, altruism leaves us with a euphoric feeling.

In longer-term relationships, it is associated with better mental and physical health, and also longevity. This type of love helps to build and maintain the psychological, social and environmental fabric that shields, sustains and enriches us. Given the current situations our planet is in, it seems like we could all do with quite a bit more agape. 

5. Ludus

the 7 types of love

This is a type of playful or uncommitted love. It can involve activities like teasing, dancing or more overt flirting, seducing and conjugating. The focus is more on fun and it is sometimes also on conquest, with no strings attached. These types of relationships are casual, undemanding and uncomplicated. But they can be very long-lasting. This type of love works best when both parties are mature and self-sufficient. Though problems may arise when one party mistakes ludus for eros. 

6. Pragma

This love is a practical love and is founded on reason or duty and one's longer-term interests. Sexual attraction takes a back seat in this love, in favor of personal qualities and compatibilities, shared goals, and making it work. In the days of arranged marriages, this love must have been common.

While it is nowadays perceived to be unfashionable, it remains widespread, most visibly in certain high-profile celebrity and political couples. While most relationships start off as eros or ludus, they end up as a combination of storge and pragma. While pragma may seem opposed to ludus, the two can co-exist with one providing a counterpoint to the other. 

7. Philautia

This type of love is a self-love. It can be healthy or unhealthy. Unhealthy self-love is akin to hubris. While in Ancient Greece, a person accused of hubris placed himself above the gods, or above the greater good, today it has come to mean an inflated sense of one's status, abilities or accomplishments, especially when accompanied by haughtiness, or arrogance. As it disregards the truth, hubris promotes injustice, conflict, and enmity.

Meanwhile, a healthy form of self-love is akin to self-esteem. This is our cognitive and above all, emotional appraisal of our own worth relative to that of others. It is the matrix through which we think, feel and act. It reflects and determines our relation to ourselves, to others and to the world.  

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