In this essay on literary criticism, Dr Ampat Koshy analyses the words used in Greek for their category of four loves. It later became part of the Western world view too, through Christianity.
Classical Criticism – The Four Types of Love:
In Phaedrus, Plato discusses four types of love. During the Hellenic period, the four types were recognised and respected in their own sense and none of them was considered taboo or immoral, unlike the present when we apply standards of ethics and morality to every aspect of life.
Eros: This refers to love in its physical sense. Eros does not merely refer to love between man and woman, but between older men and younger men (a form of paedophilia, which was quite common among the patrician society of Greece), and between women and women. The idea of paedophilia is suggested in the very image of Eros (the Romans call him Cupid), the god of love – a little boy who is winged, naked, and is carrying a bow and arrow. So, the focus here in eros was more on the physical or sexual aspect and not on gender.
Philia: Unlike eros that focuses on the sexual aspect, philia focuses on the love that is more at the emotional or mental or even intellectual level. For instance, the love between Socrates and Plato can be seen as a clear instance of philia.
Storge: This refers to the affection that one has for one’s family, state, or society. It is more wide-ranging but not as intense as philia or eros.
Agape: This is selfless love that exists between man and God or God and man. It could also be between human beings where the lover can sacrifice anything for the sake of the person he/she loves. In the Septuagint version of the Bible, Gospel of St. John, chapter 21: verses 15-17, Jesus asks Simon (Peter), son of John whether he loves him. Jesus asks this question thrice. The first and the second time, Jesus asks Simon Peter, son of John whether he loves him (agapaho ego meaning do you have the highest and purest love for me?). To this, Simon Peter says that he loves him (phileho soo meaning I love you in a brotherly way). But, when Jesus asks him the third time whether Simon Peter loves him, he uses the word philia and not agape (phileho ego meaning do you love me in a brotherly way?) and Peter affirms his love (phileho soo).
Biblical critics like H.A. Ironside state that Jesus wants to know if Peter has the highest form of love for him. But when Peter responds twice saying he loves him on a comparatively lower scale, Jesus asks him the third question using the verb phileho because he is content with this love from Simon Peter.
Closely associated with love is the concept of Psyche in Greek mythology and philosophy. Psyche is the wife of Eros who had to undergo various hardships in order to be united with him and to become an immortal goddess on Mount Olympus. Psyche refers to the soul, and when the soul finds its mate (Eros or love), then one finds everlasting pleasure (In classical mythology, Hēdonē or pleasure is the offspring of Eros and Psyche). But, unlike Hēdonē in mythology who symbolises sensual pleasure, philosophers believed that the union of the soul with its soul mate creates everlasting spiritual pleasure.
In fact, this concept of Psyche was carried forward by Freud who stated that life is spurred on by two unconscious drives – the drive for Eros or sex and the drive for Thanatos or death. Freud perhaps sensed the rift between Psyche and Eros among people and wanted to integrate them via psychoanalysis.
More to read in Literary Criticism
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