“FIND OUT WHAT LOVE IS” beckoned a sign on London’s South Bank, along the Thames.
Naturally, I couldn’t resist the invitation, but the building was closed for the night, & I was leaving London the following morning, so I’d have to find out for myself the secret to love.
My lovely niece, Natty, & her boyfriend had taken me for a walking tour of downtown London at night. It was two days before I boarded the MV Explorer in Southampton. We wandered around the South Bank & discovered the invitation to love was a summer event consisting of art installations, romantic black & white Hollywood movies, rides, activities, & even outdoor furniture designed to bring people closer together. The goal was to explore love—not just romantic love, but the more sophisticated, complex, subtle ways the ancient Greeks viewed love. At least six kinds, each offering us food for thought:
1. Eros. Sexual passion. Not seen as totally positive, but more as an uncontrollable force that can lead to danger & madness.
2. Philia. Deep friendship. Loyalty, camaraderie—this kind of love was valued more highly than eros, & considered more trustworthy. I’m not sure how the ancient Greeks would have viewed Facebook friends!
3. Ludus. Playful love. The joyful exuberance of children & young lovers. A sweet innocence we should strive to recreate in our lives.
4. Agape. Selfless love. Love for all humanity. Perhaps the highest form of love. It was translated into Latin as “caritas,” which later became our: charity. The concept of lovingkindness & compassion to all.
5. Pragma. Longstanding love. The mature love of couples who have been together a long time & who have withstood trials, sufferings & joys … & managed to stay standing. A beautiful idea that our culture doesn’t value enough.
6. Philautia. Love of the self. This is a tricky one because it can be split in two: 1) overwhelming love of the self that leads to narcissism, constant “selfies,” & putting oneself first at all times; & 2) a necessary, important self-awareness & tenderness to one’s self. We can’t care about others until we learn to care about ourselves.
All this recreated on the South Bank! As we explored, it struck me that I’d found the underlying theme for this voyage, & for my travel blog: to travel by sea the way the ancient Greeks did, to seek out fellow & sister humans, & in the words of E.M. Forster, “Only to connect.”