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8 Greek Words for Love (and How They Can Make Your Writing Stronger)

In our modern society there is great emphasis on romantic love. We see it everywhere: on our screens, in our literature, and especially now that February is upon us. But what about the other types of love? Friendship, self-love, altruistic love, and familial love? These themes play out in our lives too, though they are rarely highlighted in the same way. What's even stranger is that we only use one word to describe an otherwise wide spectrum of emotions.

If the ancient Greeks were still alive today, they would be bewildered. "How can passion be the same as the love for a friend?" they would exclaim. It didn't make sense then, and it doesn't make much sense now. So why when we have such an expressive language in general (think about how many words we have for coffee alone!) did we suddenly get lazy when it came to love?

While we may be passive about our wording in real life, as writers we can't afford to have the relationships between our characters fall flat. Love is the key ingredient to a well-rounded story, and can easily make-or-break the success of a plotline. That's where the Greek's come in. With their 8 words for love, we can clearly determine which type is represented in your work and how to use it to it's utmost potential.

1. Philia: The love of a deep friendship

This is the type of platonic love shared by two friends. It means "affectionate regard and friendship among equals", and was highly regarded among ancient Greeks as being one of the most important types of love. This is the strong bond of loyalty between soldiers on the battlefield. It is devotion, the sharing of one's deepest emotions, and the sacrifices made for one another that make this type of love so distinct.

Examples of this type are: Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, Xena and Gabriella from Xena, Harry and Ron from Harry Potter, The March Sisters from Little Women, Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby, Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bridget from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas from Pride and Prejudice, and Anne Shirley and Diana Barry from Anne of Green Gables.

Think about what they all have in common:

  • Trust and mutual effort

  • Both are well-developed in their own right.

  • Reliability

  • Their relationship experiences highs and lows

  • They help, share, and give each other advice

  • They have common interests and values

  • They both share an emotional need or attachment

2. Xenia: The hospitality extended to guests

From the ancient Greek concept of hospitality, this type of love refers to the generosity and courtesy given to those who are far from home. This can be a material type of affection (like gifts being given), and the giving of basic necessities such as food, shelter, and protection.

This one is a little harder to identify. It's usually more subtle and short-lived, seeing as how the relationship itself is not a deep one. You see this more in fantasy and old western genres.

Examples of this type are: The King to Beowulf and his men from Beowulf, Kote the barkeep to his customers in The Name of the Wind, Odysseus's journey in The Odyssey where he relies on the hospitality of others to help him along the course of his journey, the exchange seen in The Illiad between Hector and Paris of Troy to King Menelaus of Sparta, the alliance between the Starks and Walder Frey in Game of Thrones, and any saloon-type scene in an old western novel.

To pull this off consider:

  • Formal greetings and declarations of care/friendship

  • The mutual exchanging of gifts from both parties

  • Food and drink are involved

  • This typically is a gathering with a purpose, think treaty, alliance, celebration of a victory or wedding/birth, etc.

  • Balance of power and mutual respect

  • Small talk but with underlying tones of tension or emotion

  • Something usually goes wrong

  • There are other elements at play, such as opposing agendas or betrayal

3. Philautia: Love of self

Aristotle recognized early on that there were two types of love that technically fall under this category. There's the narcissistic kind that drives people towards the pursuit of fame and fortune, and there's the kind that nurtures your soul and grows your ability to love. These two are the two sides of the coin. They mirror each other. Self-compassion is the regard for one's own well-being and is seen as a basic necessity. On the flip side vanity and selfishness act as mortal flaws. Examples of this type are split to reflect the two sides:

Self-love & Personal Acceptance: Carmen's journey in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Samantha from Sixteen Candles, Triss from Divergent, Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

A lot of this type of plotline is internal. Teenage characters often work best for this role as they are already struggling to determine who they truly are and who they want to be. Some of the staples here include:

  • Lots of monologues

  • Embarrassing moments

  • Mistakes that lead to growth

  • A realization of one's personal strengths

  • Characters or events that help build personal confidence

  • A questioning of their identity

  • Trying on new roles to see what works best

Narcissism: Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, Loki from Thor, Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, Josh Bryant from The Princess Diaries, Narcissus from Greek Mythology, Zaphod Beeblebrox from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter, and Vizzini from The Princess Bride.

Narcissism in characters is easier to portray, especially when it comes in villain form. These types tend to display the following:

  • Grandiose dreams for themselves

  • An inflated sense of self

  • They have superiority complexes

  • They lie/make excuses

  • They live in their own world

  • They justify their actions

  • Lack of remorse

  • Power or prestige-hungry

4. Agape: Love for everyone

Agape has many meanings. It reflects the charitable love of a community, represents the love of God for his people in Christianity, and in general means selfless love that is extended to all whether they be family or strangers. It is also the concept mentioned in Buddhism as the principle of "universal loving kindness".

You see this reflected in characters like Katniss and Prim in The Hunger Games, John Keating from Dead Poet's Society, Maria from The Sound of Music, Lucy from Narnia, Mary Poppins from Mary Poppins, Marmee from Little Women, Charlotte and Fern from Charlotte's Web, Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, Vianne Roche from Chocolat, and Mrs. O'Hara from Gone With the Wind.

These characters share several good-will characteristics:

  • Accepting/ open-minded natures

  • Kindness to all

  • Many have jobs/roles that utilize their nurturing skills such as teachers, nurses, mothers, caregivers, and protectors

  • Patience

  • Good listeners

  • Selflessness

5. Storge: Familial Love

The love for one's family members, particularly that of a parent to a child. It is a natural affection. You don't see this much in ancient literature, but in modern day stories it's all over the place. It is also used to reference the tolerance of putting up with a situation and when referring to the love one has for one's country.

The greatest examples today are: The Weasley's from Harry Potter, Mr. and Mrs. Stewart Little from Stewart Little, Marmee from Little Women, Robinson Crusoe, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, Baloo and Bagheera from The Jungle Book, The Cuthberts from Anne of Green Gables, The King and Queen of Arendelle from Frozen, and The Man from The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

To bring this type to life consider the following:

  • The backstory of their family

  • What role they play within their family

  • Their parenting style

  • Patriotism

  • What they feel responsible for

  • How they handle stressful situations vs. calm ones

  • How they are with their partners

6. Ludus: Playful Love

While the Greeks regarded most types of love with a more serious disposition, Ludus is the word for the playful zeal of love between children or casual lovers. It is the lighthearted nature of flirting in the beginning of a new relationship, the playful banter between friends, and the frivolous dancing that occurs with random strangers. It is the "game" of love that makes this type all the more appealing.

Examples of this type include George Wickham from Pride and Prejudice, Paris from The Illiad, Donna from Mama Mia, Edward Louis from Pretty Woman, Benjamin Barry from How to Break Up With a Guy in 10 Days, Ruby Gillis from Anne with an E, Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With The Wind, Tom and Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby, Stanley Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire, Don Draper from Mad Men, and Maggie from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Characteristics of these characters include:

  • Fickleness

  • Noncommittal

  • Flirtatious

  • Deceitful or dishonest

  • They are serial daters

  • They're never satisfied

  • They don't always know what they want

7. Eros: Sexual Passion

Named after the Greek God of fertility, this type of love represents romance, passion, and lust. While we tend to embrace this passion with open arms today, back in ancient times the Greeks interpreted it as more of a negative than a positive. Eros was fiery, dangerous, and irrational love that could enthrall a person and make them do things beyond their control. They feared this kind of love because of the lack of control, and yet today we all want to fall "madly" in love.

There are so many famous examples of couples in Eros: Romeo and Juliet, Scarlett and Rhett, Jack and Rose, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, Daisy and Gatsby, Allie and Noah from The Notebook, Paris and Helen from The Illiad, Anne and Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables, Hamlet and Ophelia, Hermione and Ron, Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser.

For any steamy romance to succeed, they need to have the following:

  • A connection, a spark

  • Similar interests/values

  • Chemistry

  • Their personalities should balance each other out

  • They both want a relationship

  • There are obstacles they must overcome together

  • Their relationship changes over time

8. Pragma: Longstanding Love

This is mature, developed love that has been tested by time and has succeeded. Think about the grandparents who have been together since they were teenagers. They made it through the decades by compromising, showing patience, and by being tolerant. This is the kind of love that makes a fairytale come true.

Allie and Noah from The Notebook, Donna and Sam from Mama Mia, Claire and Lorenzo from Letters to Juliet, Ellie and Carl from Up, Dr. Houseman and Mrs. Houseman from Dirty Dancing, and Lucy and Ricky from I Love Lucy are all excellent examples of longstanding relationships.

How Pragma differs from Eros:

  • The couple has been together for years, if not decades. Or they are rekindling a former long-term relationship.

  • The couple knows each other intimately as well as physically.

  • The passion has cooled, replaced with intimacy and deeper fondness.

  • They don't play games. They both know what they want and can communicate it to each other.

  • Life complications may get in the way (more serious issues may arise)

  • Their dynamic is more relaxed. They're both comfortable and know their place in the relationship.

  • They share long-term commitments like a marriage, a mortgage, children, etc.

Taking the time to diversify the types of relationships in your story can help bring realism and depth to your writing. Thanks to the ancient Greeks, we can apply these 8 principles to help guide us through crafting timeless relationships and classic romances.

#writingitwells #writing #Greek #love #romance

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