''Of Erōs''In truth, “love” is a word that functions with so many possible shades of meaning that it is an abstract heavy-laden with numerous connotations and uses for almost as myriad a number of individuals who use the concept in their everyday lives. This situation was even a fact in the distant past as it is today. The ancient Greeks, for example, had several primary types of love as part of their cultural lexicon, with each denoted by a different word or term. In alphabetical order, they are: agápē, érōs, philautía, philía, storgē, and xenía. Agápē love is a form of self-sacrificial love, or altruism. It is the love of God for man and of man for a (good) God. Agápē is used in ancient texts to denote love—or feelings—for one's children or for a spouse. Agápē is also used by Christians to express the unconditional love of God for His children. Erōs love is mostly love that stems from sexual passion. It is erotic love. Hence, the modern Greek word “erotas” means “intimate love.” However, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato refined his own definition of the term: “érōs helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth...that leads us humans to feel erotic desire—thus suggesting that even sensually based love aspires to the non-corporeal, spiritual plane of existence...Lovers and philosophers [thus] seek truth through the means of érōs.”1 Philautia love is “self love.” That is, to love yourself or have “regard for one's own happiness or advantage.”2 Which “has both been conceptualized as a basic human necessity and as a moral flaw, akin to vanity and selfishness....The Greeks further divided this love into positive and negative: one the unhealthy version is the self-obsessed love, and the other is the concept of 'self-compassion.'”3 Philia love means “affectionate regard, friendship”—usually “between equals.”4 It is a dispassionate virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle, and in his “Nicomachean Ethics,” philia “is expressed variously as loyalty to friends (specifically, 'brotherly love'), family, and community, and requires virtue, equality, and familiarity.”5 Storgē love means “love, affection” and “especially of parents and children.”6 It is the natural empathy felt by parents for offspring. Furthermore, storgē is also known to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations, as in “loving” the tyrant. This term is also used when expressing the love for one's country or a favorite sports team. The final type of love—xenia—means “guest-friendship.” Xenia “is the ancient Greek concept of hospitality...shown to those who are far from home....The rituals of hospitality created and expressed a reciprocal relationship between guest and host expressed in both material benefits...as well as non-material ones.”7 Of the six conceptual types of love from ancient Greece, the focus of this essay is érōs: the love about which this composition has the most to say.
From the outset, admittedly this writer's experience—and therefore knowledge—of love and its convoluted twists and turns are limited except for where common sense, philosophy, and history dictate. Therefore the reader's forbearance and patience are required for the brief length of this piece of writing. That said, and to begin, throughout the ages, many different philosophers, sages, scholars, writers, poets, and playwrights have discoursed on or written about love, or érōs. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates—husband to Xanthippe, whose namesake is defined as the “wife of the philosopher Socrates...remembered for her allegedly bad-tempered behavior toward her husband”—despite her constant scolding and nagging, finds his considerably younger shrew of a wife, in effect, the apple of his eye. So it is truly perplexing that his renown student, the Greek philosopher Plato, discourses in the Socratic dialogue, “The Republic,” that any youth or man who desires to pursue wisdom and logic as a profession (that is, philosopher) should forsake the love of women. Indeed, since Plato's decree many notable examples of brilliant thinkers and minds have taken the philosopher's recommendation to heart, namely: Archimedes, Sir Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann, Nikola Tesla, Paul Dirac, G.H. Hardy, and Grigori “Grisha” Perelman, to mention a few. In layman's terms, Plato's insight about men (and women) of brilliance and of genius—that the rest of the world can only grasp with inchoate and inadequate comprehension (as an outsider looking in)—is that the trait of brilliance and genius constantly requires vast personal resources, (emotional) energy, and mental maintenance of the endowed of said qualities in order to function and perform at his or her best and most optimum equilibrium and not become emotionally, mentally, or physically overwhelmed or overextended. Unbeknownst to the world, brilliance and genius are laborious work that requires Sisyphean effort and concentration; they necessitate round the clock vigilance because they present their own set of different and seemingly unmanageable needs and requirements (from the norm) much the same way suddenly becoming rich overnight by winning a lottery plagues and harasses the unsuspecting new lottery winner with new and very urgent decisions and demands on his very limited time and resources and otherwise hitherto very ordinary and uneventful lifestyle and existence. Because being brilliant and being gifted with genius are essentially demanding of one's time and precious emotional and psychological resources, there is very little time and energy left for dating, courting, and marriage—even much less for having children and raising a family—after individuals of a beautiful mind, as it were, have exhausted themselves with their daily and regular scientific research, creative activity, and metaphysical meditations. Their brains and lives; styles of thinking and of perceiving, processing, and feeling; and their relationships; are fundamentally and qualitatively affected in profound ways that modern, mainstream psychology still does not fully or completely understand, nor can adequately model, predict, or reproduce experimentally. However, for these beautiful minds, their scientific research and creative passions are their aspiration and primary purpose for existence. Their work is their raison d'être, in other words. These wonderfully endowed individuals do what they do simply because they can do nothing else (with similar or equivalent skill, talent, or imagination). It is essential to realize and comprehend that whereas the rest of humanity does what it can, these men and women of brilliance or genius do what they must. Ergo, in this manner they are also creatures of enormous burden and obligation. Firstly, to themselves. But secondly, to the rest of humanity as well. Therefore, finally, though it may appear that the life and existence of individuals of prodigious intelligence and potential are glamorous and ideal—as in a fairy tale or fantasy, or in a comic book or movie or on television—in truth, by and large, these towering giants of the intellect are very solitary and isolated souls with too much time spent in socially enforced solitude and meditation—as befits introverts of monastic habit and predilections (except in cases of meaningful, socialized work or research or creative activity). Which explains the demoralizing—but unavoidable—truism that the best minds therefore do not make the best possible lovers or significant others in érōs by traditional standards (as a result of hereditary and/or temperamental design).
Love, or érōs, moreover, is many things to human beings in many different ways. It is like any commodity or resource that can be quantified, measured, packaged, mass-produced and then easily marketed like a usable product made for the express purpose of commercial consumption to no end. Where érōs can be quantified and measured by simple arithmetic, it is a fact of life that some individuals are born fortunate in that they enjoy a literally overabundant cornucopia of lovers whilst on earth. Whereas other souls not so favored by Fate or Fortune must do without the tender or carnal affections of members of the opposite sex. Sometimes this most abject, unfortunate predicament in life befalls members of both sex. However, it is well-known that women seldom suffer from this affliction to the extent that their male counterparts do. Nevertheless, however, it is not for trying that even though fewer women than men are deprived of érōs while still in the flower of their prime, that a significant percentage of men who do manage to find érōs for themselves tend to find it in excessive amounts. Howbeit, such men do so where quality suffers and where only scoring a “home-run,” to use a baseball metaphor, is the goal. With this aim in mind—to gratify their insatiable lusts and concupiscence—these modern-day satyrs no longer care about the quality or characters of the women they bed, for they in the process of their womanizing and philandering have long ago forsaken self-respect even as they seek to continually disrespect and profane the women they fornicate with and to defile their bodies with their members. Because of such “men”—and boys (who attempt to emulate true manhood, but to no avail)—is there any wonder then that among the girl and women folk that they are commonly known as only “dogs”? But lest any member of womankind should think at this point that she is without blame or fault in the game of love (érōs) and intimacy let her think again. For even as the fornicating male of his species makes a whore of himself and is deserving of condemnation for it, so too is the female of her species likewise capable of such acts of whorishness and sexual mischief-making and should, too, be chastened for her reckless acts of self-injury and personal vitiation. For what human beings—men and women—desire for themselves a bride or bridegroom on their wedding day (and night) that is not as morally and as virtuously “clean” and “fresh” as the cleanest, most fresh produce (that can be bought and had from the produce section of their local food market or grocery store every morning)? Not one (unless they are, of course, self-loathing and self-disrespecting masochists who are truly devoid of self-esteem, self-appreciation, and—most of all—self-preservation)! To be brutally honest, common sense and prudence both dictate that men and women alike—like disposable products—are more desired when they are known to be lightly “used.” Or not used at all—as in the case of virgins. Were it only that simple, however! Whereas the principle may generally hold true in the cases of women, it is not always so with male virgins. For men that have never known carnal knowledge are sometimes feared—and even regarded as undesirable by some women, as peculiar as that may seem (to the rational mind). As if they are a member of a strange and hitherto unknown species of the animal kingdom. Or even worse, as if they are canonized saints altogether, beings so otherworldly and remote (to some women) so as to be an anachronism from another era or from another world. In such situations, the suddenly frightened and tremulous female would prefer a “man” (or cad, rather) who has already had his fill of meaningless sexual conquests and dalliances for a hundred lifetimes. For some—if not too many—self-avowed, “modern” women find themselves suddenly insecure and perplexed at the prospect of a heterosexual (that is to say, “straight”) male who has never touched a woman before. Be that as it may, unbeknownst to these women they are like treasure hunters lacking discernment, who, when they happen upon real treasure, do not recognize or comprehend the bounty that is directly beneath their feet; or they are diggers of gold who—like bats whose natural powers of radar and echo-location are inexplicably rendered ineffective when they are completely out of their normal element in new, unexpected surroundings—are absurdly blind to the caches of gold, silver, and platinum that await them in the grottoes and caves amidst their very presence. In any case, this is one of the few areas in érōs—and in life, also—where a double standard works against the male (who is chaste and virtuous, and hence unconventionally virginal) rather than against the female. Which, as one can therefore see, reveals one of the hypocrisies of mankind in the general and of the sexes in the particular. That said, if it is true that when a man or woman takes too many lovers he or she as a consequence decreases his or her desirability in the eyes of future partners and prospective future spouses for himself or herself, then perforce the converse of this self-evident axiom is just as true and valid. That is to say, when men and women are both choosy and conservative in the number and quality of their romantic and sexual attachments they will reflexively find that their desirability among members of the opposite sex increases several-fold overnight. This development is not surprising, as it is human nature for women and men to desire for themselves the things and the possible gallants and ladyloves who exhibit “low-mileage,” so to speak, and likewise to covet those who betray no amount of excessive overuse concerning érōs. Bluntly put, in érōs none desire for themselves other's hand-me-downs, leftovers, or sloppy seconds and so forth. For all want and desire only the best of everything—and only that and those which are newest and least used, as well: for all also prefer the best mates with the least amount of “baggage,” in a manner of speaking (from other relationships, affairs, flings, and other similar “youthful indiscretions” from the past). Because every normal human being loves himself, and seeks to preserve his own mind and body's welfare, care, and maintenance: “For no man [or woman] hateth his [or her] own flesh,”8 wrote St. Paul in an epistle to the Christian proselytes and converts at the Church of Ephesus (found in the Book of Ephesians of the New Testament). Therefore, all men and women desire—or should desire—for themselves the best possible partners, mates, and ultimately spouses that they can humanly attract and keep in a meaningful and romantic sexual relationship or union. For, since the beginning, this overriding principle is not only natural: it is also Scriptural. It is the evolutionary mechanism and divine directive by which humanity procreates and prolongs its existence and survival as the only recognized intelligent species in the known universe. Such is the compelling nature of human érōs.
Regarding copulation, for those who still possess their virginity and “virtue,” human sexual intercourse without “love”—in the truest sense of the word—is by and large a source of disappointment and anti-climax for women as well as for men. And guilt, as well. Especially for women (and girls). Coitus is therefore most positive and gratifying—as well as fulfilling—when feelings of caring and tenderness of affection are mutually present for and felt by two adults together during the act of physical intimacy and love-making. Which therefore makes necessary and urgent the emphasis to young men and women that it is much better to have to wait a little longer, if necessary, and reserve one's self for the right man or woman than to unwisely throw away and squander too hastily that which is special and very impermanent about one's body to the wrong and undeserving individual during an occasion of meaningless sex and/or merely physical gratification. Moreover, the fears and incidences of sexually transmitted diseases, herpes, chlamydia, and HIV are abated by wisely choosing to wait and save one's self for the right person that comes along. Not to mention the fears and/or incidences of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, which would force some young women and/or couples to the dreaded cross-roads of having to reluctantly contemplate an abortion, a procedure and controversial issue that are literally a moral and political can of worms for many people in America today. But regardless of these hard facts of existence, one's freedom of choice to do whatever one wishes with one's body—and with whom—is one's prerogative and inalienable right. However, with freedom of choice one must also accept freedom of responsibility for one's actions and the consequences of one's life decisions. With adulthood, freedom and autonomy to experience érōs entails freedom and autonomy to be accountable for one's acts and expressions of érōs as individuals. For, as male and female adult human beings, it is one's right to sow “love” as well as to reap the results and consequences of one's “love.” But whatever the case may be, and for better or for worse, such potentially life-altering ramifications and realities make up and define the unavoidable nature of adult, human érōs.
1. En.wikipedia.org. 2020. Greek Words For Love. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 June 2020].
8. En.wikipedia.org. 2020. Ephesians 5. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 June 2020].
Essay by Ngoc Nguyen
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Written on 2020-06-27 at 10:06
Tags Eros  Love  Greek
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