What is the Meaning of Love (7 ancient words you need to know)

In this post, you will discover the many facets of love, which you can identify and strengthen to improve your life and the lives of those you love.

This will allow you to reflect on your past, understand how love has shaped you into the person you are and how love can help you become the person you want to be.

The ancient Greeks and Romans had a profound understanding of love and used different words for different kinds of love:

Storge: family love

Philautia: self-love

Ludus: playful love

Eros: sexual passion

Pragma: enduring love

Philia: deep friendship

Agape: sacrificial love

Storge: family love

The first love that any of us experience is family love which in the Greek is called “storge”. This love is for fathers for their children, mothers for their children, and later it extends to brothers and sisters until it includes everybody in the family.

This initial childhood experience of family love is one of the main reasons why families are so important. Throughout history and every culture in the world, a family includes a mother, a father, and children. There is a reason why this is so important and we will go into these reasons below.

Protection and Support

Obviously, when children are born they are weak and vulnerable they are ignorant and at the mercy of their environment. They need the protection and support of their parents, but why should parents invest their important time energy and money and taking care of children instead of just going out and fulfilling their own natural desires? The answer is love, as they have received love they also now give love to those in their family. As they protect and support their children, traditionally, children feel responsible for protecting and supporting their aging parents. This chain of love has been passed down for millennia, but it in danger today.

Acceptance and Toleration

It is said that family is the people who have to take you in but you have no place else to go. This is one of the great aspects of family love; we learn to accept each other, even our weaknesses our failures are known and endured. In a good family, there is no real competition or envy. In family love, we accept each other, we protect each other, we tolerate each other’s weaknesses, and we are there for each other when there is need. That’s why the family is the greatest mechanism for survival in the history of the world.

The Foundation for all future love

This storge or family love becomes the foundation for all future love from childhood forward. And one of the greatest weaknesses of the modern world is due to the breakup of the Modern Family. Many children today do not grow up in healthy families, and they do not experience family love, and so they, in turn, do not grow into loving people. They don’t grow into mature people capable of creating healthy families themselves. Instead, they become stunted and their love becomes very shallow and narcissistic, incapable of commitment and sacrifice which is necessary in mature love. But of course, people are able to improve, people are able to change even with a bad start in life, people are able to overcome their lack of receiving love, and they can learn to become loving people. It’s just very difficult.

Philautia: self-love

The next love I want to talk about is philautia or self-love. Self-love also is the second foundation for all of our future loves. It has two different branches the negative one is narcissism which is based on selfishness. And the positive form of self-love is what the ancients call “The care of the soul” which includes the pursuit of knowledge, virtue, and goodness.


Seeking pleasure, fame and wealth, narcissism is when you love yourself more than you love anything else and you decide that your desires are more important than anyone else’s desires. A narcissist is willing to make other people suffer so that they can get what they want. This kind of self-love is a very a damaged and dangerous form of self-love. One that is really a perversion of the true and healthy form of self-love.

Care for the soul:

Seeking virtue and knowledge, a healthy form of self-love is when you care for your soul and you care for the soul of others. This is the good form of self-love where you care for the well being of your soul. You do not seek to dominate, control, or manipulate others. Instead, you seek ways for, as we say in the modern world, win-win relationships; you seek ways for everyone to be successful, for everyone to get their needs. I will write an entire post on how to care for your soul later, as there isn’t space for it here.

Self Confidence/Self Esteem

Some people say that self-confidence and self-esteem are two essential forms of self-love. And so they make a strong effort to teach children to love themselves, to build up their self-confidence, and to develop their self-esteem. But often this doesn’t work out very well, for who has the greatest self-confidence and self-esteem: bullies Bullies are very confident in themselves and expert in crushing the confidence in others. We must be very careful when trying to boost the self-confidence of people, especially if they’re already a narcissist. Boosting the confidence of narcissists will only create more bullies.

Ludus: playful, uncommitted love

Once we expand our love beyond our families, usually the first kind of lovely experience is “ludus” or a playful and uncommitted love. While this kind of love in natural and inevitable, it is not mature or stable, it is sort of the experimentation stage of love. A word of warning: a culture cannot survive if it elevates uncommitted love as the end game. The center will not hold and everyone will drift apart.

Flirting and Carousing

Often we experience this in our youth, perhaps even falling in love. This flirting with other people it is an exciting experience and is typical for first-time love. Another component of this playful love is … I guess I’ll call it “carousing”. Carousing is about singing, dancing, and partying often accompanied by drinking or drug use, but not necessarily.

Just Having Fun

“Just having fun” is another form of playful love where people are just enjoying each other’s company. It does not have to have a sexual component, it can be just a night out drinking with one’s buddies. They’re having a good time, it could be at a sports event, it could be watching TV, it could be playing video games. There are a plethora of opportunities to seek this kind of playful and uncommitted love in modern society. This is perhaps the most common form of love in America today. Traditionally, young people were expected to put childish excitement behind them as they move on to more mature forms of love involving responsibility, commitment, and sacrifice. Unfortunately, many modern people never grow beyond this form of uncommitted love.

Casual Sex

This is the ultimate result of playful love where people are just into sharing their bodies with each other: sexual without commitment, pleasure without passion. It’s not about who you are or who the other person is; it’s only about sensation and immediate satisfaction, with whoever is available. It is unfortunate that many people become trapped in this kind of love after they have been burned by failed attempts to find mutually committed passion, assuming that is all there is when they’re actually seeking a much deeper, more mature and lasting form of love.

Eros: sexual passion

Eros, which is where we get the word erotic, is based on sexual passion and that is highly celebrated in our culture, in our music, our movies, and our theater. This kind of love is very powerful and very motivating, but we need to be careful to recognize it as only one of the many forms of love and is not necessarily the best form of love. Sexual passion, by its nature, is not something you can control, rather it controls you. Furthermore, it is unstable and seldom permanent.


The word passion actually comes from the word suffering and the idea is that when you can’t satisfy your desires then you suffer or you feel passion for what you do not have. In this way, passion and satisfaction are opposites. What you have can satisfy you but intense desire for what you do not have can drive you practically insane. In the ancient world, erotic love was considered not only powerful but also dangerous; passion with something that you had to be very careful about because it could drive you to do things that were bad for everybody involved and could create great tragedy. In the modern world, we have pretended that passion is perfectly safe and recommended for everybody. But erotic love is anything but safe and failure to understand this has hurt many people and stunted them from growing into more mature forms of love.

Selfish Desire

The problem with Eros and erotic love is that it’s based on selfish desire. Passion is based on satisfying my needs so that I get what I want. This can be a problem if I want you but you don’t want me. Many of our forms of sexual harassment and rape are based on the competing desires of two people wanting different things and expressing their desires in incorrect ways.


Extremely unhealthy forms of passion include Mania and addiction. This is where people literally go crazy. Mania is the most dangerous form of passion where you have to have complete control of the other person. Your selfish desires must fulfilled no matter the cost. Sometimes, we see people like this in the news. Such as in the famous case of OJ Simpson where he was reputed to have killed his ex-wife out of jealousy. In one very candid comment, he said, “If I did it I did it, it because I loved her.”

Addicted to Romance

And lastly, the weak point of passion is it can become an addiction because the experience is so powerful and so strong. People can seek to continue to the emotional high experience of eros again and again and again. And that is why many people feel worried and disturbed when they fall out of love with somebody or worse, someone falling out of love for them. This is why society is foolish for promoting sexual desire as the epitome of love. The path to mature love should pass through the stages of playful love to sexual love and then on to the next form of love: Pragma

Pragma: enduring love

Pragma means and enduring love and it’s definitely not celebrated in the media or in our culture. This kind of love was common is arranged marriages of old and in our day is highlighted by an older couple a man and a woman who have been together for 20, 30, 40 years. Their passion has cooled and they’ve been through difficult times but they have overcome their individual differences and learn to work together. Note this well: there may still be sexual love within pragma, but it is no longer the main point of the relationship.

Commitment with Deep Understanding

This kind of love requires a deep understanding which requires a lot of time and a lot of experience of seeing both good and bad together. This requires a strong mutual commitment to one another, but there is a wonderful security of being with someone who knows you at your worst and yet they didn’t abandon you.


Another aspect of this kind of love is compromise where I give up some of what I want so you can have what some of you want. Every successful loving relationship has to learn to compromise or it will lead to anger and unhappiness and probably the breakup of the relationship.

Acceptance and toleration

This kind of pragmatic love is an extension of family love where we accept each other and we tolerate each other. In the past, our parents loved us and accepted us, our brothers and sisters who grew up with us loved us that accepted us. But typically in marriage, we join to an outsider and create a new family. That is why the permanence of marriage has been so important traditionally. It forces us to move beyond our selfish love of self and form a cooperative love with another. Thus, we learn to love someone in this very pragmatic way, which is the most important feature of successful parenting and why those who fail to evolve from playful and erotic relationship make lousy parents.

Philia: deep friendship/fellowship

Philia is often called the brotherly love and that’s where we get the name Philadelphia which means the City of Brotherly Love. But philia includes all kinds of deep friendship from soldiers to athletes to women who have spent a lot of time together. The central idea is one of nonsexual fellowship, a deep sharing in common of interests and experiences, often with intense commitment. This is a mature love that can provide a firm foundation for society.


This kind of deep sharing of a common life requires equality; a boss and employee cannot truly have a brotherly love. The coach and his players can only have a very limited form of fellowship, compared to the players among themselves. But when people are truly equal, they share the highs and the lows The good, the bad, the benefits, and the penalties unite them together, That is the basis for brotherly love. Traditionally, men and women have not been equal thus they cannot have deep fellowship. Furthermore, there is little evidence that the majority of men and women can have deep sharing without developing sexual desires.


Another aspect of brotherly love is loyalty. In the military this is expressed by the concept of a “Band of Brothers” where all the military men in a unit feel that they have a family love for each other and out of fraternal loyalty they will help each other in times of need, even many years after they leave the military and create families of their own.

Agape: sacrificial love

Agape is the highest form of love and the rarest. I consider it committed, sacrificial love. Some people call this a motherly love, but fathers can show it when they work hard to make money for their family. This love is seen when people give up their desires so that someone else can get what they want or need. In a way, this is the opposite of selfish sexual love, as well as the opposite of playful uncommitted love; and thus agape love is the most important love of all.


One form of the sacrificial love is in altruism where people help someone else even at the cost to self. Their love for others is so great that they are willing to deny their own desires and their own needs to help someone else get their desires and their needs. This kind of love is so rare that some people don’t even believe it exists. This love can be generalized to a larger group, so that one sacrificially loves and altruistically aids complete strangers


And the highest form of Agape Love is martyrdom where someone is willing to give up their life for the benefit of others. When someone gives up their very life to help someone else, that is the highest and deepest form of love which very few people desire and fewer still are willing to make a commitment to. But even a few examples can uplift and strengthens a culture, serving as a guide and challenge, so that the survivors will move beyond their selfish desires and do more for those around them.

Well, that’s what I think. Tell me what you think in the comments below.

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2 Responses

  1. Marta says:

    Hi Peter,
    Thank you for sharing.
    I truly enjoyed your article. In fact, I’ve also shared it on my facebook page.
    Love can be dangerous if you are not aware of its meaning.
    I see people speaking about love, but they have no idea of its nature. For that reason everything becomes confusing.
    I saw by myself that I made some confusion in the past.
    Thank you again.

    • Peter Barban says:

      When I was a kid, I was hesitant to tell my parents that I loved them because the media taught me that love = romance. We need to show and tell that there are many forms of love and they are both real and important. Thanks for sharing my post.

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