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THESE ANALYSES OF LOVE are gleaned from Stephen Fry’s fascinating Mythos: The Greek Myths Reimagined.
“Aphrodite, the supreme goddess of love and of beauty,” Fry says, “was attended by a retinue of winged and naked godlings called Erotes. Like many deities (Hades and his underworld cohorts, for example), the Erotes suddenly found themselves with much to do once humanity established itself and began to flourish. Each of the Erotes had a special kind of amatory passion to promulgate and promote.”
Anteros. Fry notes that the “well-known statue by Alfred Gilbert that forms the focus of the Shaftesbury Memorial in Piccadilly Circus, London, is actually not of Eros but of Anteros, deliberately chose to celebrate the selfless love that demands no return.” The seventh Earl of Shaftesbury was known for his philanthropic achievements “in hastening the abolition of child labor, reforming lunacy laws, and so on.”
Eros. This leader of the Erotes is the god of physical love and sexual desire. Note, “selfless and unconditional” are not part of the deal.
In fact, Fry says, Eros is “most influential and devastating in his power to sow mischief and discord…. Under his Roman name of Cupid he is usually represented as a laughing winged child about to shoot an arrow from his silver bow…. Eros can be capricious, mischievous, random, and cruel as love itself.”
Hedylogos. Fry notes that this spirit of the language of love and endearment now looks over Valentine cards, love letters, and romantic fiction.
Hemaphroditus. Fry brings this god au courant as “the protector of effeminate males, mannish females, and those of what we would now call the more fluid gender.”
Himeros. This god is “the embodiment of desparate impetuous love, love that is impatient to be fulfilled and ready to burst.”
Hymenaios. She is the guardian of the bridal chamber and wedding music.
Pothos. This god is “the personification of languorous longing, of love for the absent and the departed.”
Love, Love, Love, Love. Fry notes that the Greeks had at least four words for love. Each has its nuances as well as effects on modern language.
Agape. “This,” Fry writes, “was the great and generous kind that we would describe as ‘charity’ and which could refer to any holy kind of love, such as a parents for their children or the love of worshippers for their god.”
In a footnote, Fry describes, “The King James Bible renders the conclusion of the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (written in Greek, of course) as ‘And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.’ In modern translations ‘charity’ is rendered simply as ‘love.’ ”
Eros. This, Fry says, is the “kind that gets us into most trouble. So much more than affectionate, so much less than spiritual, eros and the erotic can lead us to glory and to disgrace, to the highest pitch of happiness and the deepest pit of despair.”
Philia. This form of love applies “to friendship, partiality, and fondness.” It recurs in the world’s languages with words like “francophile” and “philanthropy.”
Storge. This, Fry observes, is “the love and loyalty someone might have for their country or their sports team.”
Well, these just about sum up every Hollywood musical, every roman à clef, every Country Western ditty, and every letter you perhaps shouldn’t have written so explicitly. Thanks, Stephen, for bringing Greek myths so alive. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022
Thank you for sharing these extracts from Mythos, Dennis. I’m a big fan of Stephen Fry’s acting and comedy, but was wondering about his written works.
I noticed the electronic version of this book, and its subsequent two volumes (Heroes and Troy), are currently on sale at the Apple app’s book store for less than four bucks each. I prefer real books to ebooks, but I need to get rid of stuff and electrons take up much less space than paper.