Archive for April 1, 2012

The Name of Love

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 1, 2012 by telescoper

A comment on a recent post pointed out that the ancient Greeks had four distinct name for different aspects of what in English is called, simply, “love”.

Here’s what wikipedia says on the matter:

There are several Greek words for love, as the Greek language distinguishes how the word is used. Ancient Greek has four distinct words for loveagápeérosphilía, and storgē. However, as with other languages, it has been historically difficult to separate the meanings of these words. Nonetheless, the senses in which these words were generally used are given below.

  • Agápe (ἀγάπη agápē[1]) means “love” (unconditional love) in modern day Greek, such as in the term s’agapo (Σ’αγαπώ), which means “I love you”. In Ancient Greek, it often refers to a general affection or deeper sense of “true love” rather than the attraction suggested by “eros“. Agape is used in the biblical passage known as the “love chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13, and is described there and throughout the New Testament as sacrificial love. Agape is also used in ancient texts to denote feelings for one’s children and the feelings for a spouse, and it was also used to refer to a love feast. It can also be described as the feeling of being content or holding one in high regard. Agape was appropriated by Christians for use to express the unconditional love of God.[citation needed] Before agape love there was no other word to express such great love.[citation needed]
  • Éros (ἔρως érōs[2]) is passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. The Modern Greek word “erotas” means “intimate love;” however, eros does not have to be sexual in nature.Eros can be interpreted as a love for someone whom you love more than the philia, love of friendship. It can also apply to dating relationships as well as marriage. Plato refined his own definition: Although eros is initially felt for a person, with contemplation it becomes an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even becomes appreciation of beauty itself. Plato does not talk of physical attraction as a necessary part of love, hence the use of the word platonic to mean, “without physical attraction.” In the Symposium, the most famous ancient work on the subject, Plato has the middle-aged Athenian philosopher, Socrates argue to aristocratic intellectuals and a young male acolyte in sexual pursuit of him, that eroshelps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth, the ideal “Form” of youthful beauty that leads us humans to feel erotic desire — thus suggesting that even that sensually-based love aspires to the non-corporeal, spiritual plane of existence; that is, finding its truth, just like finding any truth, leads to transcendence. Lovers and philosophers are all inspired to seek truth through the means of eros.”
  • Philia (φιλία philía[3]) means friendship or affectionate love in modern Greek. It is a dispassionate virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. In ancient texts, philos denoted a general type of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity, as well as between lovers.
  • Storge (στοργή storgē[4]) means “affection” in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring. Rarely used in ancient works, and then almost exclusively as a descriptor of relationships within the family. It is also known to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations, as in “loving” the tyrant.

I’m by no means an expert on love, but it seems to me that even with this expanded set of basis states it’s still the case that one’s emotions aren’t described fully by just one. Perhaps love is like quantum mechanics, in which the general state is a superposition?

Anyway, this all reminded me of “the love that dare not speak its name” which most take to refer to homosexual desire. In fact it’s not as simple as that. The phrase was coined by Oscar Wilde in the following excerpt taken from the transcript of his criminal trial for gross indecency in 1895:

‘The love that dare not speak its name’, in this century, is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Johnathan. Such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you may find in the sonnets of Michelangelo or Shakespeare. It is, in this century, misunderstood. So much misunderstood that it may be described as ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, and on account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful. It is fine. It is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual. And it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man when the elder has intellect and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it and sometimes puts someone in the pillory for it.

This looks to me like it fits in the wider definition of Eros, not necessarily of a sexual nature. It’s a very moving speech, or at least I think so,  but it didn’t do him much good. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to two years’ hard labour. And, over a century later, it’s still “misunderstood”…


News from the BOSS

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on April 1, 2012 by telescoper

No April Fool’s from me today I’m afraid!

New results from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (known to its friends as BOSS) were one of the highlights of the National Astronomy Meeting last week (which I wasn’t at) and they’ve received quite a lot of press attention over the past few days. Rather than repeat what’s been said I thought I’d reblog this lengthy piece, which gives a lot of detail and is also written by an insider!

we are all in the gutter

I wrote the following post yesterday, but I fell asleep before I could do anything with it. It’s about the first set of results from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), part of Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III project, which we announced to the science community and to the press yesterday. How this whole project was picked up by the press in a way I hadn’t anticipated is the matter for another post. What really matters is the science, and the science – if you don’t mind my exceedingly biased opinion – is just excellent.


I’m now making my way back home from this year’s National Astronomy Meeting (NAM) 2012 in Manchester. I love NAM. It’s always a chance to see old friends and listen to good science, to catch up on gossip and long-promised pints. This year, I did almost none of these things. The reason is that one…

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