Love In Greek: Classical Ideas Of Love And Romance

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated September 21, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

From tragic myths to Athenian philosophy, the Ancient Greeks offered a unique perspective on love and romance. While some elements of classical mythology may be challenging to read due to dark themes, there are also touching stories of loyalty and longing that still resonate today.

The Seven Types Of Love From Ancient Greece

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While English often refers to all different kinds of love with the same word, ancient Greeks didn't just have one word to describe feelings of love and affection—they had seven. Each of the seven Greek words for love expresses specific emotions, their precise language allowing them to distinguish between sexual love, love between friends and family, and love for humanity, among other types.


The Greek word Eros refers to sexual passion and lust. It may be more physical love as opposed to romantic. We may refer to this today as sexual desire. Eros may be felt towards any gender, in married relationships, as lovers, or as more casual sex partners.

Eros is also the name of the Greek God of love, whose Roman counterpart is Cupid. Sometimes depicted as an infant or a young man, Eros is the culprit behind many mythological love stories in Ancient Greece. The love god is also closely associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and passion, who is often identified as his mother.

While Eros is often characterized as a positive and life-giving force, it may also lead to obsessive love, ending in tragedy and madness. Greek mythology and tragedies are full of tragic love stories, misplaced sexual affection, and ruinous consequences.

Although primarily sexual in 5th-century philosophy and beyond, the scope of Eros is broadened to include philosophical life as well. Eros need not necessarily be physical, but can, instead, refer to a yearning for knowledge of the beautiful, the good, and the true.


The Greek term philia understands that physicality isn’t always a necessary part of love. Philia refers to affectionate love between equals, often strong friendship or brotherly love. Philia is often interpreted as a more virtuous kind of love, separate from the love of sexual attraction. Built on honesty and understanding, philia bonds may be just as strong as romantic and sexual attachments.


Agape is a type of unconditional, selfless love that refers to a person's love towards their children, parents, spouse, community, or even strangers. Agape can also be a form of Christian love, indicating the love of Jesus or God's love towards his creation.


To the Greeks, ludus was a type of playful love indicated by playful behavior and budding feelings. It was often used to describe the exciting "puppy love" of a new relationship or crush. A relationship built on ludus typically did not lead to a committed relationship.


Storge is the concept of unconditional love, often for someone in the family. It is not romantic and is known to be a solid and unwavering familial love. For example, a mother's love for her child may be known as storge.


Philautia is deep self-love. It can mean having high self esteem, caring for yourself, seeing yourself as valuable, or practicing self-awareness. Self-love is not necessarily selfish or without compassion. This type of love can be practiced through mindfulness, or self-compassion practices like journaling and self-check-ins.


Pragma is said to be a compassionate, long-term love, often between those who have been in a romantic or committed relationship for years. Eros can become pragma with time or commitment in a healthy relationship.

Love And Mythology In Ancient Times

Love and romance are enduring subjects throughout Greek mythology, with stories of successful couples that brave the odds, and tragic tales of loss and betrayal. These Greek stories compose a rich tapestry of myth and legend, and are the subject of many subsequent poems, plays, and works of art.

Ariadne And Theseus

Ariadne and Theseus are featured prominently in the legend of the Minotaur. Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete. Underneath the Cretan palace, Minos kept a minotaur in a maze, to whom he sacrificed Athenian youths each year. To halt the sacrifices and defeat the Minotaur, Theseus, the son of the king of Athens, traveled to Crete with the sacrificial party. With Ariadne's help, Theseus navigated the maze, killed the Minotaur, and escaped the island.

In most versions of the myth, after Ariadne and Theseus flee Crete, Theseus abandons her on the island of Naxos. While Ariadne is distraught at this abandonment, she is rescued and wooed by the God Dionysus, to whom she later bears several children. Ariadne and Theseus' story runs the gamut from initial romance, to adventures together, to eventual betrayal. Nevertheless, the story concludes with Ariadne ascending to the status of a demi-goddess as Dionysus' wife.

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Medea And Jason

The love story of Medea and Jason is another famous Greek myth that spawned many other reinterpretations throughout history. When Jason travels to Colchis in his quest for the Golden Fleece, he encounters Medea, the king's daughter. Medea feels an immediate physical attraction and falls in love with Jason and assists him in his search. Medea is a sorceress, who uses her power to help her lover complete the three tasks set out for him. In some versions of the story, she makes Jason promise that he will marry her in exchange for her help.

Jason and Medea take the fleece and sail away, with Medea murdering her brother during their escape. Medea and Jason have several other adventures together and several children. However, when they arrive in Corinth, Jason abandons Medea in favor of the king's daughter, Glauce. Mad with grief and rage, Medea kills Glauce with the gift of a poisoned dress. Medea then kills her children in an ultimate act of revenge against Jason. This portrayal of murder and revenge in the ancient world has been a popular topic for art throughout the centuries.

Psyche And Eros

Psyche is a beautiful princess whose suitors venerate her in place of Aphrodite. Outraged by this usurpation, Aphrodite sends her son Eros to shoot Psyche with one of his arrows and cause her to fall in love with something ugly. Instead, Eros accidentally pricks himself with his own arrow and falls madly in love with Psyche.

Psyche is soon whisked away to a secret bower, where Eros visits her only under cover of night to consummate their love. After encouragement from her sisters, Psyche tries to uncover Eros' identity but only succeeds in pricking herself on one of his arrows and falling even more in love with him. Eros flees, and Psyche is forced to wander the earth searching for him.

Psyche eventually comes under the control of Aphrodite and must complete a series of increasingly challenging tasks to appease her, including sorting grain, retrieving golden wool, bringing backwater from the river Styx, and even traveling to the underworld. Through the help of other supernatural beings, Psyche is able to complete all of these tasks. At the end of the myth, Psyche and Cupid are reunited and married, and Psyche is allowed to drink ambrosia and become a goddess.

Odysseus And Penelope

Odysseus is one of the heroes of the Trojan War, renowned for his skill with words and his crafty nature. After the ten-year war, however, Odysseus is swept off course on his return home and spends another ten years wandering the seas to return to his wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus.

Penelope, meanwhile, must spend ten years fending off ravenous suitors eager to marry her and claim Odysseus' ancestral lands. Penelope, too, is known for her crafty nature and tricks the suitors into accepting her delays when it comes to a new marriage. When Odysseus finally returns home, the two are reunited, and Penelope is rewarded for her fidelity and patience.

Hector And Andromache

Hector and Andromache are two mythological figures whose stories are chronicled in Homer's epics. Hector is a prince of Troy, set to defend his city against the invading Achaeans. Andromache is his wife, and the mother of his infant son.

Several scenes in the Iliad depict them interacting with one another and professing their love for each other. Hector is killed by Achilles outside the gates of Troy, leaving behind Andromache and their child.

Helen And Paris

Helen is the cause of the Trojan War, the face that launched a thousand ships, while Paris is her lover and accomplice. Their story begins as Paris herds sheep on a distant mountain, where three goddesses approach him to judge a contest to determine who is the most beautiful. Paris rules Aphrodite as the most beautiful, for which she promises him the world's most beautiful woman, Helen of Sparta.

Helen is married to Menelaus, the king of Sparta, and when Paris steals her away to Troy, Menelaus follows with a vast army of Achaeans to bring back his bride. The Trojan War ensues, with much blood spilled on both sides. After the end of the war, Helen returns to Sparta with her former husband.

Eurydice And Orpheus

The story of Eurydice and Orpheus is another classic myth with many interpretations and retellings. In the tale, Orpheus is a skilled musician who falls in love with the beautiful Eurydice. Despite the happiness of their initial marriage, it is prophesied to be short and tragic. While in the forest, Eurydice is bitten by a poisonous snake and dies.

Orpheus is overcome with grief and plays his sorrows on his lyre so the entire world can hear. He decides to descend into the underworld to retrieve his beloved. They strike a bargain that Orpheus may retrieve Eurydice, but only if she follows behind him on their ascent through the underworld without him glancing back at her.

Only steps away from the top of their climb, Orpheus cannot overcome his desire to see his wife and turns around. Eurydice is then unable to leave the underworld. Although Orpheus tries to return to the underworld to see his wife, he can only do so through death.

Philemon And Baucis

Philemon and Baucis are a married couple living in a humble home in Greece. They are visited by Zeus and Hermes in disguise and are the only ones in their village to welcome them into their household. They serve their Gods food and drink, and soon realize they are divine. While Hermes and Zeus destroy the rest of the village due to their lack of hospitality, they spare Philemon and Baucis.

Their cottage is turned into a temple, and the couple requests that they be allowed to guard it. They also ask that they be allowed to die simultaneously so that they would not live without each other. Zeus grants these wishes, and transforms them into trees that grow side by side upon their deaths.

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Learn About Love Through The Support Of A Counselor

Throughout these ancient stories, themes of love, loss, marriage and betrayal run strong. In the present day, as in the ancient world, romance can be a confusing topic. If you're struggling with romantic relationships and need help, plenty of resources are available. Online therapy may be a beneficial tool for couples looking for support. You can find therapists from anywhere with an internet connection and don't have to leave home to attend a session.

Couples therapy has been proven to benefit 70% of those who choose to get help. Whether you're seeking professional help or just need a person with whom to talk, online therapy options such as BetterHelp have a variety of therapists available who specialize in romance, relationships, and more.

Read below for user reviews from those who sought help for similar concerns.

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Greek mythology and history may teach us much about love and relationships. Through the popular myths and legends retold today, many people resonate with the familiar patterns of love, such as loss, attraction, and desire. If you want to learn more about how love impacts your life, consider online therapy.

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