Love has always been an important element of life in Ancient Greek society. It has been extensively covered in literary stories, poetry, and even in philosophical texts.
But it was a bit different than in a modern sense. Generally in modern times, love has always intertwined with marriage but Greek love stories in most cases were extramarital in nature. Marriage was rarely the sphere of love and considered more of a duty.
But the example of love within duty can be found in Planthane’s grave stele which presented a relief of a couple joining hands, which symbolized a lasting unity. The concept of soulmates is also said to be first found in Plato’s Symposium which sees love as an overwhelming force bringing two people close to each other.
Mostly the love stories were about extramarital homosexual love between an adult Male with a teenage boy. This type of relationship was greatly glorified in ancient Greece and was very common among upper classed men.
The Ancient Greek Goddess of love
Aphrodite was the goddess of love, beauty, sex appeal, and fertility. She can charm everyone, even the gods. She was called the laughter-loving goddess because she would laugh sweetly or mockingly at those her charms had conquered. Her charms are so powerful that she can turn even wise men into talking foolishly.
Ancient Greece Love
The term homosexuality as it is used and understood today is not applicable to Greek antiquity for three reasons: First of all, most Greeks were bisexual. Second, homosexuality and ‘gay’ as sexual identities are recent developments, emerging only in the 2Oth Century.
Last, and most important of all, passion and erotic love between two adult men (the model for modern gay relationships), was generally considered unusual and held up to ridicule. Homosexual love in Greece was love between a man and a boy.
Greek practice of pederasty
The Greek practice of pederasty came suddenly into prominence at the end of the archaic period of Greek history; there is a brass plaque from Crete, about 650-625 BC, which is the oldest surviving representation of pederasty custom.
Such representations appear from all over Greece in the next century; literary sources show it as being established custom in many cities by the fifth century BC.
It was very common among the upper class men, and was considered educational for the younger boys. These was also seen as very common topic even in Greek literatures where in place of common love stories, extramarital homosexual relations between a aged male and a teenage boy was very glorified and romanticized.
Ancient Greeks acknowledged homosexuality as an important tool in boys education. They institutionalized and regulated its practices within their law codes. True, opinions about it varied, but few aspects of any culture have ever stood without debate, both popular and forensic.
Their homosexuality, almost universally intergenerational, resembled what modern societies call pederasty rather than homosexuality among adults.
Court and Spark
Ancient Greece had unofficial and unwritten rules enforcing decorous behavior at droid or in gymnasia and especially for relationships that at times started there, much as modern society has rules for how teenage sons of socialites must “court and spark” their romantic interests.
Occasionally one of those young scions of the social elite might take a favor to a particular boy in training. The young man might approach the boy after classes ended for the day, or he might send an intermediary to give his name and a message to the boy.
There were magical effigies much like those used today by practitioners of voodoo. The practitioner of this aggressive magic would cast an incantation and poke or burn the effigy in an effort to affect the person represented.
The intention was to make the woman represented suffer the pangs of lust to the point that she would leave her family. The practitioner might invoke Eros, Pan, Hekate, or Aphrodite.
Ancient Greek types and names of love
Today when we speak of love probably only or two pictures come to our mind. We have thus only one word for love but Ancient Greeks had eight words for love signifying different types of love. And they were:
- Eros or Erotic love: This was one signifying the most primal desires of humans where it involves loss of control. It can be beautiful and very attractive but it can also be misguided which leads to dangerous acts and broken hearts.
- Philia or affectionate love: This was a love mainly meaning friendship that did not need physical attraction and is based on loyalty, teamwork, and also sacrifice. The Greeks considered this very even above eros.
- Storge or Familiar love: This is another love without physical attraction found between childhood friends or kin or family.
- Ludus or Playful love: This is generally found among young people and in the early stages of love. It is full of innocence and even consists of eroticism. It was considered very essential by the ancient Greeks.
- Mania or Obsessive love: It is a love where one is led to the brink of obsession and even madness and happens with an imbalance of eros and Ludus. This can lead to jealousy and possessiveness, leading to even possible friction in the relationship.
- Pragma or Enduring love: This is the matured love that has developed over time and is above casual innocence and even physicality. It is a stage of harmony and is very hard to find with a lot of effort and patience required from both sides.
- Philautia or Self love: This is the form of love for oneself and focused on personal improvement, growth, and time. It gives true happiness and also helps to love anyone else.
- Agape of Selfless love: This is a kind of unconditional love free of desires and expectations. It was considered to be the purest form and has a store of boundless affection and empathy.
4 Famous Ancient Greek love stories
- Penelope and Odysseus: In an epic by Homer Odysseus was the king of Ithaca and had spent almost 2p tears away from his queen to fight eats, monsters, and giants. He finally returned to his beloved wife, Ithica who in spite of being wooed by several suitors waited for Odysseus faithfully and the story ended with them uniting to live a happy life together forever.
- Orpheus and Eurydice: According to mythology Orpheus was a musician and a poet who was in love with Eurydice but she died after being stung by a viper on their marriage day. But Orpheus deducted his life to bring his wife back to life and even traveled to the underworld to find her. He played a beautiful song to please the god of the dead, Hades and he let him take his wife but with a condition that he would not look at him before reaching there. But just before stepping in the outside would be looked at her with overwhelming love only to lose her forever.
Perseus and Andromeda: Perseus was an honorable hero from the Mycenean Greek age. He rescued Andromeda from a sea monster while traveling on his winged horse. They fell in love and lived together forever after marriage and according to Greek mythology, our galaxy was formed due to the route taken by Perseus to save Andromeda.
- Sappho and an unnamed woman: Sappho was one of the best ancient Greek romantic poets. In her poem, ‘Ode to Aphrodite’ she called upon the Goddess of love to deliver his unrequited love. She had been burdened with rejection and asked the goddess to help her in winning the love of an unnamed woman who has won her heart and Aphrodite, the goddess promises her that the unnamed woman will respond to her feelings.
Ancient Greece love poems and poet
One of the poets on love from Ancient Greece was Sappho whose poems are even read today. He was an example of Greek lyrical poetry and talks about the women he hjas loved and heartbreaks he has suffered. His poems were generally from a woman’s perspective and about the women he admired showing how construct of love was so different from modern days, He described both the beutiful as well as the heartbreaking aspect of love. An example of his poems is:
Frankly I wish that I were dead:
She was weeping as she took her leave from me
And many times she told me this:
‘Oh what sadness we have suffered,
Sappho, for I’m leaving you against my will.’
So I gave this answer to her:
‘Go be happy but remember me there, for you know how we have cherished you,
If not, then I would remind you
[of the joy we have known,] of all
The loveliness that we have shared together;
For many wreaths of violets
Of roses of crocuses
… you wove around yourself by my side
… and many twisted garlands
which you had woven from the blooms
Of flowers, you placed around your slender neck
… and you were anointed with
A perfume, scented with blossom
… although it were fit for a queen
And on a bed, soft and tender
… you satisfied your desire…’