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Erōs is the Greek term we use to describe when we are ‘falling in love,’ the passionate desire to want and be with another person. Erōs is a raw and primitive form of love, a physical attraction to another whom is seen as beautiful. When Zeus, in the Iliad, suddenly feels a strong desire for Hera, his wife, he exclaims:

For never has such love [erōs] for goddess or woman

Mastered my heart so overwhelmingly…(1.1; Homer Iliad 14.315-16)

Another term associated with love is philia, which includes sexual and non-sexual forms of love, such as friendship or affection for family members. Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans depicts two women discussing their friendship using philia.

The main difference between the two is the result of the feeling. Philia involves a feeling of goodwill and affection towards the target, where a relationship has been built prior. Erōs involves attraction based on physical beauty and can incite a more violent act, such as rape.

In Latin, the nouns cupīdo, to desire, and, amor, to love, are used in place of erōs and philia. A third noun, libīdo, also means desire, but also lust, which takes a more negative connation:

At this terrifying prospect, his savage lust [trux libīdo] prevailed as if by force over her resolute chastity. (9.12; Livy History of Rome 1.58)

Like philia, amor can refer to loving devotion and sexual attachment. Yet, in Roman culture, amor refers to sexual passion in the absence of goodwill, as displayed by the rapist Sextus Tarquinius:

Burning with passion [amōre ardens], he waited until everyone seemed to be asleep…(9.12; Livy History of Rome 1.58.2)

In both cultures, love was either a feeling of benevolent affection, or violent aggression.