The origin of…Love

“Loved you yesterday, love you still, always have, always will.” Anonymous.

  Post 3 Love

Love is everywhere. Wars were fought over it.  Love makes the world go round (although some argue it is money that makes the world go round). But in English there is only one word for different kinds of love. Whether we are talking about the love for your child, the love for pasta, the love for baseball…it is all the same word: love. This is not the case in all languages and cultures. For example, in ancient Greece, different types of love could be distinguished: the love of kinship or familiarity (storge), the love of friendship (philia), the love of sexual and/or romantic desire (eros), pure love or divine love (agape), the love of doing something (thelema), physical passion/lust that needs to be satisfied (himeros).

In Buddhism, there is kāma, sensuous/sexual love, karuṇā, compassion and mercy, which reduces the suffering of others and adveṣa and mettā, benevolent and unconditional love.

In Italian I love you is ti amo, but there is the expression ti voglio bene, literally meaning I want you well, but expressing affection in a way that you wish well to the other. Parents say it to their children, but girlfriends and boyfriends also use it.

In Chinese culture there is the Confucian concept of ren, benevolent love, which focuses on duty, action and attitude in a relationship rather than love itself. In contemporary Chinese the word for love is ai, which contains the character for heart, since you love with your heart.

There are many different theories as to how the symbol of the heart became a symbol of love in Western society. Here are a few:

  1. The Egyptians. In Ancient Egypt the hieroglyph for heart resembles the symbol of the heart as we know it today. The heart was so important that it was the only organ that stayed in the body when it was embalmed.
  2. The Greeks. The Greeks used to use the symbol of the heart to portray ivy or vine leaves, which were symbols of constancy and regeneration.  The Greek philosopher Aristotle identified the heart as the most important organ of the body, the center of intelligence, emotion and sensation. However, the Roman physician Galen said that the heart was secondary to the liver and that love resided in the liver. According to him, the heart was the seat of emotions and the liver the seat of passions.
  3. Silphium, a type of fennel now extinct, had pods the shape of a heart. It was used as an herbal contraceptive, so the plant became associated with sexuality and love. There were many other medical and culinary uses of the plant and it was such an important species, that the Romans considered it “worth its weight in denarii” (silver coins). The heart shaped pod was depicted on silver coins from the city of Cyrene, in present day Libya.
  4. The heart symbol is based on a female´s bottom as seen from the rear, according to Galdino Pranzarone.

If you want to read more on the history of the symbol of the heart, you can check these websites:

1. a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
2. attraction that includes sexual desire : the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship
3. a person you love in a romantic way (source: Merriam Webster)

The English word love comes from old English lufian, meaning to love, cherish, show love to, delight in, approve and lufu, meaning love, affection, friendliness. The Dutch liefde  has the same origins.
The Spanish and Italian amor and amore come from the Latin amor., meaning love, affection, the beloved.

Love in other languages:
Dutch: liefde
Spanish: amor
Italian: amore


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