The ancient Greeks, a civilization renowned for its philosophers and wisdom, used different words to describe the different kinds of love. This multifaceted understanding of love served as an essential ingredient in Greek culture, infusing it with a deep understanding of human emotions.
Among these various forms of love, there is one, often overlooked, that is particularly impactful in today’s world—Philautia, the Greek term for self-love.
Philautia (pronounced fil-aw-tee-uh) from the Greek word ‘philautos’, literally means ‘love of self’. In ancient Greece, this wasn’t perceived as narcissism or an unhealthy obsession with oneself, but rather as an acknowledgment of the inherent worth we carry within us.
It is an essential part of love that allows us to connect deeply with others. After all, the ancient Greek philosophers believed that how can one love others if they don’t first love themselves?
Understanding Philautia requires an exploration of the diverse types of love defined by the ancient Greeks.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types of love categorised in Ancient Greek society. They had a word for passionate love (‘Eros’), romantic love, inspired by the Greek god of love and fertility; familial love or affectionate love towards family members (‘Storge’); and even a term for the friendly feelings or deep friendship that forms long-standing friendships (‘Philia’).
Each was a single word that encapsulated a vast realm of emotions and experiences.
Yet, Philautia stood out. It was not an extension of a man’s passion, like Eros, which could lead to extreme jealousy or loss of control.
Nor was it the physical attraction or sexual desire that often characterizes the early stages of a relationship. It was not even the deep, soul-to-soul bonds of romantic partner love, often described as the steepest fall and the most intense form of love.
Instead, Philautia was about feeling comfortable in your own skin, prioritizing your own needs, and developing a deep understanding of your own interests. It promoted self-care and self-compassion, providing a basis for unconditional love for oneself before it could be extended to others.
This concept may sound familiar to our modern interpretation of self-love, as propagated in western culture, particularly in the fields of wellness and women’s empowerment. Yet, there are some differences.
In contrast to the modern-day approach, which sometimes focuses more on individualism, Philautia emphasizes the necessary balance between caring for oneself and considering the welfare of others. It encourages a sense of self that is not solely focused on personal gain or physical love, but one that recognizes the importance of loving others. This idea mirrors the Buddha’s teachings in Buddhist philosophy, suggesting that love for oneself and compassion for others are interdependent.
Philautia represents the idea that self-love is the first kind of love, the foundation from which all other forms of love can grow. This relates to the concept that self love is not selfish, it’s necessary and important.
For instance, the love of God or ‘Agape’ love, described by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament and believed to be the highest form of Christian love, is not possible without first cultivating a sense of Philautia. Agape love is a powerful form of love, often likened to God’s love, characterized by radical selflessness and sacrificial love. Yet, at its core, Agape love begins with an understanding and acceptance of oneself.
So, how does Philautia translate into our lives today? In a world characterized by relentless pursuit and occasional self-neglect, Philautia could be a great way to reassess and redefine our relationship with ourselves. It encourages us to spend time understanding our emotions, to pursue our interests, and to acknowledge our worth.
Philautia is about being your own best friend. It teaches us that self-love is not about vanity or self-obsession but about acknowledging and honoring our inherent worth. It’s about recognizing that we are each a particular individual, deserving of our own love and respect. It is the love of self that allows us to love others truly and deeply.
Remember that moment when you faced a hard time, and you needed to draw strength from within? That was Philautia in action.
Recall the last time you decided to prioritize your mental health over a stressful situation? Again, that was the beautiful Greek word for self-love guiding your actions. It’s in these moments, when we choose to prioritize ourselves, that we can experience the power and beauty of Philautia.
Yet, the influence of Philautia doesn’t stop at the individual level. It also impacts our relationships. Imagine the shift in dynamics when entering a relationship, not from a place of need or lack but from a space of completeness.
Philautia teaches us that our romantic feelings, friendly feelings, even our familial love, all start from within.
This ancient Greek term offers a more profound and holistic understanding of self-love than its modern counterparts. It is not limited to casual acts of self-care or a simple pat on the back. Instead, Philautia goes deeper, asking us to cultivate a loving relationship with ourselves that is as rich and complex as any other form of love.
In essence, Philautia is an intimate and deep friendship with oneself. It’s the kind of love that blossoms over the long term, the kind that stands the test of time. It’s not the obsessive love that burns bright and fast, leading to extreme jealousy or the loss of control. It is rather the steady flame that continues to burn, even when all else fails.
Despite being rooted in ancient wisdom, Philautia remains surprisingly relevant today.
As we grapple with societal pressures and unrealistic expectations, the idea of self-love as proposed by the ancient Greeks offers a refreshing perspective. It gently nudges us to turn inward, to explore and cherish our own company.
By promoting a healthy relationship with ourselves, Philautia becomes the essential ingredient for the manifestation of other types of love, including familial love, friendly love, and romantic love. It is like the base of a pyramid, supporting and enabling the expression of all other forms of love.
In the hustle and bustle of today’s world, the concept of Philautia invites us to slow down and to cherish ourselves. It reminds us that we are not merely an extension of our roles or responsibilities but unique individuals worthy of love and respect.
In the words of the Greek philosopher Plato, “The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself.” Perhaps, through embracing Philautia, we can achieve this victory. We can learn to love ourselves unconditionally, with all our strengths and flaws, paving the way for a richer and more fulfilling experience of love in all its forms.
In conclusion, Philautia—the ancient Greek word for self-love—is a beautiful and powerful concept. It encourages us to embrace ourselves, to nurture our self-worth, and to view self-love not as an act of vanity, but as a foundation for all other love. As we learn and grow, let us remember to be gentle with ourselves, to honor our journey, and to embrace the beautiful practice of Philautia. After all, the love story with ourselves is the most important one we’ll ever have.
The Difference Between Narcissism and Philautia
Yes, the term “narcissism” also has its roots in Greek mythology and relates to a type of self love or self obsession but these two concepts are different.
The word narcissism originates from the myth of Narcissus, a young and exceptionally handsome Greek hunter known for his extraordinary beauty. According to the myth, Narcissus was so entranced by his own reflection in a pool of water that he fell in love with it, not recognizing it as merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his own reflection, Narcissus eventually perished at the spot, leading to the growth of the narcissus flower.
The term “narcissism” has been used in psychology to describe a personality disorder, known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, where individuals have an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. They often struggle with maintaining healthy relationships due to their self-obsession.
In contrast, Philautia or self-love, as conceived by the ancient Greeks, does not involve an unhealthy obsession with oneself. It emphasizes the importance of caring for oneself and prioritizing one’s well-being, while also maintaining a balance with the welfare of others. Philautia encourages us to be comfortable in our own skin and have a healthy level of self-esteem. It is about self-care, self-compassion, and self-respect.
The fundamental difference between narcissism and Philautia is the level and type of self-focus involved. While narcissism leads to an exaggerated self-focus often at the expense of others, Philautia fosters a balanced self-focus that also considers the well-being of others. It’s the difference between self-obsession and self-love.
Philautia creates a space for other types of love to flourish because it believes in loving oneself first before extending that love to others.
On the other hand, narcissism is typically characterized by self-absorption to the point of disregarding the feelings and needs of others.
16 Types of Love
Philautia is a beautiful form of love, but there are so many kinds of love in our universe. Many of them are explored in depth by various cultures and philosophies. Here are a few…
- Philautia: This is self-love. It encourages us to care for our own well-being and happiness, which is a necessary precondition for loving others effectively.
- Eros: This form of love represents romantic, passionate love, often associated with sexual attraction and desire.
- Storge: This type of love is typically associated with familial love, including the affectionate bond between parents and their children, and siblings.
- Philia: Also known as brotherly love, this represents deep friendship and loyalty. It can be seen in close friendships where mutual respect and compassion reside.
- Agape: This is the highest form of love, often associated with divine love or love for humankind. It’s an unconditional, selfless love that seeks nothing in return.
- Pragma: This form of love represents enduring love that develops over a long time, often seen in long-term relationships or marriages.
- Ludus: This is the playful, flirtatious love often seen in the early stages of a romantic relationship or casual lovers.
- Mania: This type of love is characterized by obsession and extreme jealousy, often leading to possessiveness in relationships.
- Kinship-based love: This form of love is found among family members and relatives, similar to Storge. It’s based on common lineage or relations by blood or law.
- Everlasting love: This type of love persists no matter the circumstances or difficulties. It’s a deep, abiding love that stands the test of time.
- Parental love: A form of love that is characterized by a parent’s deep affection and commitment towards their children. It’s often associated with feelings of protectiveness, care, and concern.
- Platonic love: A deep, non-sexual friendship that involves emotional connection and intellectual compatibility.
- Familiar love: This type of love is experienced for people we’ve known for a long time and have developed deep bonds with, often friends, family members, or long-term partners.
- Radical type of love: This is a transformative form of love that pushes boundaries and challenges norms. It’s often associated with revolutionary changes and major societal shifts.
- Empathetic love: This type of love involves understanding and sharing the feelings of another. It’s about being able to put oneself in another’s shoes and connect on a deep emotional level.
- Playful form of love: Often similar to Ludus, this love is characterized by flirtation, teasing, and light-hearted fun. It’s often seen in the early stages of romance.
Each of these forms of love carries its unique features and significance, highlighting the beautiful and complex nature of this fundamental human emotion.
More on Self Love
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Anna is a Wales-based writer and graduate from SOAS University of London.
As the voice behind On Your Journey, she empowers women to embrace holistic well-being and spiritual growth through her expert insights into wellness and symbolism.
When she isn't writing thought-provoking articles, you'll find her busy crafting and raising her 4 children.