The Greek language distinguishes at least six different ways as to how the word love is used. Ancient Greek has six distinct words for love: philía, éros, agápe, storgē, pragma, and philautia. However, as with other languages, it is been difficult to distinguish the separate meanings of these words without carefully considering the context in which the words are used: In casual writing, the words’ meanings overlap considerably. Nonetheless, the senses in which these words were generally used are as follows:
Philia (φιλία philía) means “affectionate regard, friendship”, usually “between equals”. It is a dispassionate virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle. In his best-known work on ethics, Nicomachean Ethics, philia is expressed variously as loyalty to friends (specifically, “brotherly love”), family, and community, and requires virtue, equality, and familiarity.
However, in the same text philos is also a generic term for any kind of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity or food, as well as romance between lovers.
Éros (ἔρως érōs) means “love, mostly of the sexual passion”. The Modern Greek word “erotas” means “intimate love”.
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. 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”. In the Symposium, the most famous ancient work on the subject, Plato has Socrates argue that eros helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth, the ideal “Form” of youthful beauty that leads us humans to feel erotic desire – thus suggesting that even that sensually based love aspires to the non-corporeal, spiritual plane of existence; that is, finding its truth, just like finding any truth, leads to transcendence. Lovers and philosophers are all inspired to seek truth through the means of eros.
Agápe (ἀγάπη agápē) means “love: esp. charity; the love of God for man and of man for God”. Agape is used in ancient texts to denote feelings for one’s children and the feelings for a spouse, and it was also used to refer to a love feast. Agape is used by Christians to express the unconditional love of God for his children. This type of love was further explained by Thomas Aquinas as “to will the good of another.”
Storge (στοργή storgē) means “tenderness, love, affection” and “especially of parents and children”. Storge is the common or natural empathy, like that felt by parents for offspring, or all humans for young mammals that are ‘cute’.
The word ‘storge’ is rarely used in ancient works, and then almost exclusively as a descriptor of relationships within the family. It is also known to express mere acceptance or enduring situations, as in “loving” the tyrant. This is also used when referencing the love for one’s country or a favorite sports team.
pragma a model of love as two people may demonstrate during a lengthy marriage.
philautia self love (philos + auto + -ia) – love for one’s own self.