Love and passion

Painting: Daphnis and Chloe
Louise Marie-Jeanne Hersent: Daphnis et Chloe 19th century

For the young and innocent Daphnis and Chloe, the first stirrings of love and desire are uncomfortable experiences:

Hearing the name of Eros for the first time soothed the pain in their souls [psūkhē]. At night, they returned to the folds and began comparing their own experiences with what they had heard from Philetas. “Those in love [erân] are in pain [algeîn]. And so are we. They forget to eat. So did we. They can’t sleep, and neither can we. They seem to be on fire, and fire is upon us. They desire [epithūmeîn] to see one another, and we pray that the day come more quickly for that reason. Eros is like this. We love [erân] one another and don’t know it…”

Longus Daphnis and Chloe 2.8, adapted from translation by William Blake Tyrell

What is love? Pleasure or pain? Zeus wants Aphrodite to feel what it is to desire and fall in love with a mortal, so he makes her fall for Anchises.

Painting: Aphrodite and Anchises
William Blake Richmond: Venus and Anchises 1889–1890

He puts “sweet desire in her thūmos” and a “terrible desire seized her in her phrenes”: two different locations for the feelings associated with love and physical attraction:

But even upon her [Aphrodite] Zeus put sweet desire [himeros] in her thūmos
—desire to make love [misgémenai] to a mortal man, so that
not even she may go without mortal lovemaking [eunē] and get a chance to
gloat at all the other gods, with her sweet laughter, Aphrodite, lover of smiles,
50 boasting that she can make the gods sleep with [misgémenai] mortal women,
who then bear mortal sons to immortal fathers,
and how she can make the goddesses sleep with [misgémenai] mortal men.
And so he [Zeus] put sweet desire [himeros] in her thūmos—desire for Anchises.
At that time, he [Anchises] was herding cattle at the steep peaks of Mount Ida, famous for its many springs.
To look at him and the way he was shaped was like looking at the immortals.
55 When Aphrodite, lover of smiles, saw him,
she fell in love [erāsthai] with him. A terrible desire [himeros] seized her
in her phrenes. She went to Cyprus, entering her temple fragrant with incense,
to Paphos. That is where her sacred precinct is, and her altar, fragrant with incense.
60 She went in and closed the shining doors.
Then the Kharites [‘Graces’] bathed her and anointed her with oil
the kind that gives immortality, glistening on the complexion of the gods, who last for all time.
Immortal it was, giver of pleasures, and it had the fragrance of incense.
Then she wrapped all her beautiful clothes around her skin.
65 She was decked out in gold, Aphrodite, lover of smiles.
She rushed toward Troy, leaving behind fragrant Cyprus.
Making her way with the greatest of ease, high up among the clouds.
She arrived at Mount Ida, famous for its many springs, nurturing mother of beasts.
She went straight for the herdsmen’s homestead, up over the mountain. Following her came
70 gray wolves and lions with fierce looks, fawning on her;
bears too, and nimble leopards, who cannot have their fill of devouring deer,
came along. Seeing them, she was delighted in her thūmos, inside her phrenes,
and she put desire [himeros] where their hearts were. So they all
went off in pairs and slept together in shaded nooks.
75 She in the meantime came to the well-built shelters
and found him [Anchises] left all alone at the herdsmen’s homestead,
that hero [hērōs] Anchises, who had the beauty of the gods.

Homeric Hymn (5) to Aphrodite 45–77, adapted from Sourcebook

Aphrodite, already beautiful, adorned herself to enhance that beauty further. Sappho talks about beauty and passionate love:

1 Some say a massing of chariots and their drivers, some say of footsoldiers,
2 some say of ships, if you think of everything that exists on the surface of this black earth,
3 is the most beautiful thing of them all. But I say it is that one thing
4 that anyone passionately loves [erātai]. …
[15] [All this] reminds me right now of Anaktoria.
16 She is [not] here.
17 Oh, how I would far rather wish to see her taking a dancing step that arouses passionate love [= eraton],
18 and to see the luminous radiance from the look of her face
19 than to see those chariots of the Lydians and the footsoldiers in their armor
[20] as they fight in battle […]

Sappho Song16 1–4, 15–20, Sourcebook translation by Gregory Nagy

But Aphrodite’s passion for Anchises was a punishment: for a god to love a mortal was inappropriate. Euripides has the Chorus commenting on the inappropriate love and desire Phaedra feels for her step-son Hippolytus:

Painting: Phaedra and Hippolytus
Jozef Geirnaert: Phaedra and Hippolytus 1819

525 Love [Erōs], Love [Erōs], who drips desire upon the eyes, and brings sweet grace [kharis] into the psūkhē against whom he camps, never appear to me with evil, nor come without measure. 530 Neither fire nor meteor hurls a mightier bolt than Aphrodite’s shaft shot by the hands of Love [Erōs], the child of Zeus.

Euripides Hippolytus, 525–534, adapted from Sourcebook

The Chorus in Iphigenia at Aulis also comments on the ambivalence of love and desire:

Happy are they who find the goddess come in moderate might, sharing with self-restraint [545] in Aphrodite’s gift of marriage and enjoying calm and rest from frenzied passions [maniás], where the Love-god [Erōs], golden-haired, stretches his charmed [kharis] bow with twin arrows, [550] and one is aimed at happiness, the other at life’s confusion. O lady Cypris, queen of beauty! far from my bridal bower I ban the last. Be mine delight [kharis] in moderation [555] and pure desires [pothos], and may I have a share in love [Aphrodite], but shun excess!

Euripides Iphigenia at Aulis 544–551, adapted from translation by E.P. Coleridge

But apart from passion and desire, there are other types of love, and the ancient Greeks also talked about these[1].

In Odyssey 16 Eumaios foreshadows fatherly love.

Illustration: Eumaios and Telemachus
Bonaventura Genelli: Eumaeus discovers Telemachus

“Eumaios, I hear footsteps; I suppose one of your men or some one of your acquaintance is coming here, [10] for the dogs are fawning upon him and not barking.”

The words were hardly out of his mouth before his son stood at the door. Eumaios sprang to his feet, and the bowls in which he was mixing wine fell from his hands, as he made towards his master. [15] He kissed [kuneîn] his head and both his beautiful eyes, and wept for joy. A father could not be more delighted [agapázein] at the return of his own dear [philos] son, the only darling child of his old age, after ten years’ absence in a foreign country and after having gone through much hardship. [20] He embraced him, kissed [kuneîn] him all over as though he had come back from the dead, and spoke fondly to him saying:

“So you are come, Telemachus, light of my eyes that you are. …”

Odyssey 16.8–22 adapted from Sourcebook

Aristotle describes Plato’s idealized republic in terms of love and being beloved:

…in the republic described by Plato there will be the least possible necessity for people to care for one another as father for sons or as son for father or as brother for brother. For there are two things that most cause men to care for and to love [phileîn] each other, the sense of ownership and the sense of preciousness [agapēton]

Aristotle Politics 2.1262b, adapted from translation by H. Rackham

Love and friendship also involves taking care of each other, as Aristotle mentions. Eumaios, despite his relative poverty, provides excellent hospitality for Telemachus, and for the unrecognized “beggar” Odysseus. However, the obligations of guest-friendship and hospitality can sometimes cause difficulties for the host! Theognis provides an example:

You have accomplished, Klearistos, your journey over the deep [pontos], and come, my poor friend, penniless here to one who has nothing. We will put beneath the sides of your beached ship, Klearistos, such props as we have and the gods give; I will neither withhold anything that is in the house, nor fetch from elsewhere any finer fare for the sake of your friendship [xeniā]; we will furnish you with the best [arista] of what we have. And if any friend [philos] of yours should come, declare to him what great friendship [philotēs] you have; and if someone should ask you of my living, say that for a good living it is bad, and for a bad one it is good, so that, whereas I need not fail one friend [xeinos] of my father’s, I cannot offer more guest-friendship [xeniā].

Theognis 511–521, adapted from translation by J.M. Edmonds

But loving friendship is worth the effort! In his discussion of Aristippus, Diogenes Laertius outlines the thinking of some of his followers, including those known as the school of Anniceris about loving friendship:

Illustration: Aristippus of Cyrene
Aristippus of Cyrene. Illustration from Thomas Stanley, (1655), The history of philosophy

friendship [philia] and gratitude [kharis] and respect [tīmē] for parents do exist in real life, and that a good man will sometimes act out of patriotic motives. … [97] A friend [philos] should be cherished not merely for his utility–for, if that fails, we should then no longer associate with him–but for the good feeling for the sake of which we shall even endure hardships. Nay, though we make pleasure the end and are annoyed when deprived of it, we shall nevertheless cheerfully endure this because of our love [storgē] to our friend [philos].

Diogenes Laertius: Lives of Eminent Philosophers 2.9.96–97, adapted from translation by R.D. Hicks

The affectionate love between friends [storgē] that Diogenes Laertius mentions can also occur between family members, for example in these two epigrams in remembrance of the dead:

Sculptural relief: woman and man, grave stele
Grave stele, Athens. 410–400 BCE

330 In Dorylaion
The sarcophagus that you see was set here by Maximos during his life for himself to inhabit after his death. He made this monument [sēma] too for his wife Kalēpodiē, that thus among the dead too he might have her love [storgē].

Greek Anthology Volume II 7.330, adapted from translation by W. R. Paton

Tears, the last gift of my love [storgē], even down through the earth I send to you in Hades, Heliodora—tears ill to shed, and on your much-wept tomb I pour them in memory of longing [pothos], in memory of affection [philophrosunē]. Piteously, piteously does Meleagros lament for you who are still dear [philē] to him in death, paying a vain tribute to Acheron. Alas! Alas! Where is my beautiful one, my heart’s desire [potheinē]? Death has taken her, and the flower in full bloom is defiled by the dust. But Earth my mother, nurturer of all, I beseech you, clasp her gently to your bosom, her whom all bewail.

Greek Anthology Volume II 7.476, adapted from translation by W. R. Paton

If philos is being near-and-dear or even refers to one’s own self (such as body parts), self-love, philautía [φιλαυτία] is taking things too far. It is discussed by Plutarch in “On Praising Oneself” (De Se Ipsum Citra Invician Laudando) in the context of boasting:

As the discussion now requires and invites us to proceed to the next point, it remains to state how we may each avoid unseasonable self-praise. Boasting has in self-love [philautia] a powerful base of operations, and we can often detect its assaults even against those who are held to take but a modest interest in glory. For as one of the rules of health is either to avoid unwholesome places altogether, or being in them to take the greater care, so with boasting: there are certain treacherous situations and themes that make us blunder into it on the slightest occasion. ….

We must therefore look warily to ourselves when we recount praise received from others and see that we do not allow any taint or suggestion of self-love [philautia] and self-praise to appear, lest we be thought to make Patroclus our excuse, while we are really singing our own praise.

Plutarch “On Praising Oneself” 18–19, from Moralia, adapted from translation by De Lacy and Einarson

We invite you to share passages that describe different types of love, affection, desire, and friendship. And if you have some Greek, why not check the original text to see which “love” words are used?

Related topics

Online Open House: Love wishes, with Yiannis Petropoulos

Core Vocab: philos

Core Vocab: xeniā

Aphrodite who excites desire

Selected vocabulary

Definitions based on LSJ:

agápē [ἀγάπη] love: especially brotherly love, charity
agapân [ἀγαπᾶν] to greet with affection, be fond of, be contented
agapázein [ἀγαπάζειν] to treat with affection, receive with outward signs of love, welcome
agapētós [ἀγαπητός , ἀγαπητή, ἀγαπητόν] adj. that wherewith one must be content, desirable, beloved

epithumeîn [ἐπιθυμεῖν] to set one’s heart upon, long for, desire
eratós [ἐρατός, ἐρατή, ἐρατόν] adj. lovely, beloved, desired
[ἐρᾶσθαι] to love, desire passionately, lust after
érōs [ἔρως] love, mostly of the sexual passion, object of love or desire; the god of love
eunē [εὐνή] bed, marriage-bed

hímeros [ἵμερος] desire, longing, yearning

kuneîn [κυνεῖν] to kiss

philautía [φιλαυτία] self-love, self-regard
phileîn [φιλεῖν] to love, regard with affection; treat affectionately or kindly, welcome; show outward signs of love, especially to kiss
philíā [φιλία] affectionate regard, friendship; fondness
phílos [φίλος] adj. loved, beloved, dear; noun: friend
philophrosúnē [φιλοφροσύνη] friendliness, kindliness; welcomes
philótēs [φιλότης] friendship, love, affection
póthos [πόθος] longing, yearning, regret (for something absent or lost); love, desire

storgē [στοργή] love, affection, esp. of parents and children

xeníā [ξενία] hospitality shown to a guest, friendly relationship


1 We have provided a selected vocabulary list of terms highlighted in our quoted passages. A summary of ancient Greek concepts of love can be found in the Wikipedia article “Greek words for love


Longus: Daphnis and Chloe
English: Translation by William Blake Tyrell
Online at University of North Carolina Wilmington
Greek: Longus. Erotici Scriptores Graeci, Vol 1. Rudolf Hercher. in aedibus B. G. Teubneri. Leipzig. 1858
Online at Perseus

Sourcebook: The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours Sourcebook: Sourcebook of Original Greek Texts Translated into English. Gregory Nagy. 2013.

Homeric Hymn (5) to Aphrodite:
English: Sourcebook Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, adapted from translation by Gregory Nagy.
Online at the Center for Hellenic Studies
Greek: The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Homeric Hymns. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914.
Online at Perseus

English: Hour 5 Text H; Greek: in footnote. From:
Nagy, Gregory. 2013. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013
Online at the Center for Hellenic Studies

Euripides Hippolytus
English: Sourcebook, Translated by E. P. Coleridge, Revised by Mary Jane Rein, Further Revised by Gregory Nagy
Online at the Center for Hellenic Studies
Greek: Euripides, with an English translation by David Kovacs. Cambridge. Harvard University Press.
Online at Perseus

Euripides Iphigenia in Aulis
English: The Plays of Euripides, translated by E. P. Coleridge. Volume II. London. George Bell and Sons. 1891.
Online at Perseus
Greek: Euripidis Fabulae, vol. 3. Gilbert Murray. Oxford. Clarendon Press, Oxford. 1913
Online at Perseus

Homeric Odyssey
Sourcebook: Odyssey Translated by Samuel Butler. Revised by Soo-Young Kim, Kelly McCray, Gregory Nagy, and Timothy Power.
Online at the Center for Hellenic Studies
Greek: Homer. The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919
Online at Perseus

Aristotle Poetics
English: Aristotle Politics in Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 21, translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1944.
Online at Perseus
Greek: Aristotle. ed. W. D. Ross, Aristotle’s Politica. Oxford, Clarendon Press. 1957.
Online at Perseus

Greek and English: Elegy and Iambus, Book I, with an English translation by J. M. Edmonds. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1931. 1.
Online at Perseus

Diogenes Laertius: Lives of Eminent Philosophers
Greek and English: Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Diogenes Laertius. R.D. Hicks. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1972 (First published 1925).
Online at Perseus

From: The Greek Anthology. with an English Translation by. W. R. Paton. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1917. 2.
Greek online at Perseus
English translation from the print edition

Plutarch: “On Praising Oneself” from Moralia
English: Translation by Phillip H. De Lacy and Benedict Einarson.
Online at LacusCurtius
Greek: Plutarch. Moralia. Gregorius N. Bernardakis. Leipzig. Teubner. 1891. 3.
Online at Perseus

LSJ: Liddell, Henry George, and Scott, Robert. A Greek-English Lexicon, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie. 1940. Oxford. Clarendon Press.
Online at Perseus

Texts accessed February 2023.

Image credits

Louise Marie-Jeanne Hersent: Daphnis et Chloe 19th century
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

William Blake Richmond: Venus and Anchises 1889–1890
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jozef Geirnaert: Phaedra and Hippolytus 1819
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bonaventura Genelli: Eumaeus and Telemachus: Odysseus sits by the fire as Eumaeus discovers Telemachus at the entrance of his hut. (Undated)
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Illustration: Aristippus of Cyrene. Illustration from Thomas Stanley, (1655), The history of philosophy.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Grave stele, Pentelic marble, Athens. 410–400 BCE. National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Photo: Kosmos Society

Images accessed February 2023.

Note: Images have been selected from pictures that are freely available with open source or Creative Commons licenses, or from photographs sent in by community members for the purpose. The images in this post are intended to suggest the subject, rather than illustrate exactly—as such, they may be from other periods, subjects, or cultures. Attributions are based where possible by those shown by museums, or on Wikimedia Commons, at the time of publication on this website.


Hélène Emeriaud, Janet M. Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott are members of Kosmos Society.