In Western culture, the concept of love has multiple meanings depending on the context. From describing friendship to hobbies to romantic partners, it seems clear that love is all around us. But while the word "love" is often connoted with romance in modern English, the ancient Greeks made the idea of love more specific by establishing six different words to describe different dimensions of love.
In the spirit of the ancient Greeks, here are six books that embody each Greek aspect of love. From all–consuming, uncontrollable love that almost drives you mad to love through charitable giving, each novel will give you something to reflect on this February and all year round. After all, it's time we recognize that Valentine's Day isn't just for lovers.
Eros — The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
Eros, also known as uncontrolled love and sexual passion, was often viewed as dangerous and irrational, the kind of love that almost drives you insane. Eros was considered all–consuming to the point where it could almost control your actions, meaning that the Greeks approached this sort of love with heightened fear and caution.
With the all–consuming nature of eros in mind, The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch is a fitting embodiment of the idea of being romantically obsessed. In this novel, Murdoch weaves a fascinating tale about an egotistical playwright who decides to cement his greatness by writing an elaborate memoir. Along the way, he meets a woman from his past and spirals into a deeply unsettling obsession. In a matter of days, the playwright falls madly in love and nothing will stop him from eloping with the love of his life.
The obsession of the main character highlights the dark side of eros—how it can be, at times, a debilitating form of love. While it's easy to say that we want a love so deep it drives us insane, The Sea, The Sea proves otherwise.
Philia — A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Oftentimes, we say that we "love" our friends. But what does that deeply intense, yet purely platonic love even mean? The Greeks described this sort of love through the word "philia," which is often translated to "brotherly love" or love between friends. However, compared to our conception of the word "friendship," philia denotes a love that is warmer, deeper, and far more loyal—it means to have a non–sexual love so deep that you would die for the other person.
A Thousand Splendid Suns details the harrowing journey of two women over 30 years in Afghanistan during the height of the Taliban. Their bond remains steadfast despite the raging turmoil that pulls them apart and back together. The relationship between the two women is awe–inspiring, and a testament to the infinite love that can be shared between friends.
The deep bond between these two women in spite of the obstacles they face epitomizes philia. Despite these two women undergoing constant trauma, instability, and violence, their shared philia is enough to help them persevere.
Ludus — A Bad Boy Stole My Bra by Lauren Price
From casual summer flings to young puppy love, the playful love that we often use to define our youth was termed "ludus" by the Greeks. Ludus is love for love's sake—it's flirty, uncomplicated, and often seen as frivolous. But nonetheless, ludus can be deeply formative and healing.
Initially posted as an original story on Wattpad, a website known for its user–contributed fanfiction, avid Wattpad users may remember A Bad Boy Stole My Bra in its infancy. Although this novel has since been officially published, it has lost none of the overdramatic, convoluted fun from its Wattpad past. This playful story about a "good girl" and a "bad boy" is sure to keep readers turning the page and laughing.
While everything in the book seems deeply dramatic and life–altering, it's told from a teenage perspective that epitomizes ludic love. With A Bad Boy Stole My Bra, Price puts into words the simple young love that we've all been searching for.
Agape — A Billion Hours of Good: Changing the World 14 Minutes at a Time by Chris Field
Agape is unconditional, sacrificial love that is often motivated by charity and devotion. Also known as the "highest form of love," agape has been used in many Christian teachings to denote the love that comes with humbly serving others. Agape isn't romantic and doesn't have much to do with emotions or sentimentality—it's the kind of love that's shown through action.
In A Billion Hours of Good: Changing the World 14 Minutes at a Time, Fields shows that charity doesn’t have to be difficult—all it takes is a little time and effort. Fields uplifts and inspires readers to dedicate 14 minutes of each day (or 1% of their life) to make the world a better place. In his personal life, Fields continuously embodies agape through extensive charity work in Ghana to stop child trafficking. Fields' passion for charity shines through in every page, and will undoubtedly touch readers' hearts.
This motivational novel highlights how agape must be practiced deliberately and decisively, showing how the so–called highest form of love is a continuous choice that we must make every day.
Pragma — Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Pragma is defined as practical love founded on long–term interests—it's seen as stable and places an emphasis on "making it work" over the fiery passion that eros embodies. Serving a the root of the modern word "pragmatic," pragma is essential for successful lasting relationships, where long–term partners often have to invest in creating shared goals and keeping their relationship alive.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a particularly pragmatic love story that follows a Chinese American boy, Henry, and a Japanese American girl, Keiko, navigating the prejudice and discriminatory treatment faced by Asian Americans during World War II. However, as the book progresses, the two lovers separate, causing Henry to move on by marrying Ethel, a girl who fell for Henry after witnessing his devotion to his former lover. While Henry constantly thinks of Keiko, he remains Ethel's loyal husband until the end.
In this book, readers are shown that even in the face of insurmountable adversity, love will thrive if both parties put in equal effort and time, highlighting the importance of pragma in all relationships.
Philautia — Good Morning, Monster by Catherine Gildiner
While we often conceive of love as something that happens between two or more people, the most important form of love is self–love. This final form of love, known as philautia by the Greeks, consists of unconditional self–acceptance and appreciating oneself.
Good Morning, Monster highlights the important of philautia by chronicling the stories of therapist Catherine Gildner, who has seen many people throughout her years of experience. In this book, she pulls together the stories of 5 unforgettable patients who she considers to be "psychological heroes." What stands out about this book is the intricacies of the featured personae. Each patient has their own traumas and battles to face, but through steadfast perseverance and hope they are able to overcome their struggles.
Through Gildner's retelling of her patients' stories, Good Morning, Monster shows us that through philautia in the form of radical self–love, we can forge the path to healing.