Love for all creatures great and small

My daughter is studying Greek culture in school and so, by extension, am I. I’m relearning the gods, the philosophers and the mythology. And while I’m loving every minute of it, I’m patiently waiting for my favorite of the Greeks’ lesson – the lesson of language and their definition of love.

While I’m fairly sure the Greeks didn’t spend much time considering their relationship with their pets, they certainly contemplated life and pondered the various shades and complexities of words and definitions. In our modern world, we use one word “love” to describe an emotion as vast as the sea. We use the same word to describe our feelings for baby chicks, our kids and truly fabulous shoes, but are the feelings truly identical? Of course not. Leave it to the word-loving Greeks to provide a better solution, using four distinct categories to describe that lovin’ feeling:

Agape – This one describes a deep, longstanding love. In the Bible, agape is used in Corinthians 13 to describe the reverent love between partners and again to underscore a regard for God/Christ. Personally, I use this one to describe the love I feel for my husband, my kids and my pets. Feeling Bamboozle, our lightweight puppy, curled up beneath the blanket by my toes, kissing my kids to bed each night, watching my three dogs wrestling in the backyard. Agape, agape, agape.

Eros – While we’ve Americanized this one, culturally linking it to erotica, the Greeks had a slightly more evolved definition for the word. Philosophers Plato and Socrates defined eros as the mind’s attraction to visions of beauty. Many of us are driven to seek visions that transcend us – horses galloping freely in a field, sunsets or snow-covered mountain tops – and recall them to lift our spirits. Similarly, eros can lift us to greater levels of consciousness.

In that light (minus the erotica), I feel eros when I picture my kids racing through the foam on a sun-drenched beach or imagine the fresh, clean smell of my German Shepherd’s fur when he comes in after a run in the cold. And it’s eros that steps in when I think about my husband (maybe with a little tilt toward the erotic version).

Philia – Here’s a word that categorizes the general everyday feelings of empowerment among friends, community and pets. Anyone who is truly committed to caring for and nurturing his or her pets feels a philia connection to them. Destroyed carpets, soiled rugs, even aggressive responses cannot break the bond. In my work, I often stand in awe of the philia that extends both ways and my clients’ respect for and desire to improve their pets’ circumstances.

Storge – This is a private, abiding love. It describes parents’ adoration for their children, pet owners’ devotion to their companions as well as a deep, unconditional tolerance for family members – two-legged or four – who may have grown more difficult. I feel storge for all my various responsibilities as well as a deeper storge for our aging Labrador Retriever, who is gradually losing all her bladder control. Wiping her dribbles, stationing her on a waterproof mattress by our bedside, cradling her middle when her legs are too weak to navigate the stairs: Storge runs deep in our home.

Such a small word – love – just four little letters but so complex it needs four distinct definitions to capture its entirety. I watch as my daughter begins an academic pursuit to comprehend its meaning, but I know that she – growing up with four dogs, three cats, a bunny and a bearded lizard – already has a deeply rooted understanding of the many facets of love.


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