“Platonic love, though the philosopher never used the term himself, is examined in Plato’s dialogue, the Symposium, which has as its topic the subject of love, or more generally the subject of Eros. It explains the possibilities of how the feeling of love began and how it has evolved, both sexually and non-sexually, and defines genuine platonic love as inspiring a person’s mind and soul and directing their attention towards spiritual matters. Of particular importance is the speech of Socrates, who attributes to the prophetess Diotima an idea of platonic love as a means of ascent to contemplation of the divine, an ascent known as the “Ladder of Love”. For Diotima and Plato generally, the most correct use of love of human beings is to direct one’s mind to love of divinity. Socrates defines love based on separate classifications of pregnancy (to bear offspring); pregnancy of the body, pregnancy of the soul, and direct connection to existence. Pregnancy of the body results in human children. Pregnancy of the soul, the next step in the process, produces “virtue“—which is the soul (truth) translating itself into material form.
“… virtue for the Greeks means self-sameness … in Plato’s terms, Being or idea.”Rojcewicz, R. (1997)
In the Middle Ages, new interest in the works of Plato, his philosophy and his view of love became more popular, spurred on by Georgios Gemistos Plethon during the Councils of Ferrara and Firenze in 1438–1439. Later in 1469, Marsilio Ficino put forward a theory of neo-platonic love, in which he defined love as a personal ability of an individual, which guides their soul towards cosmic processes, lofty spiritual goals and heavenly ideas. The first use of the modern sense of platonic love is considered to be by Ficino in one of his letters.
Though Plato’s discussions of love originally centered on relationships which were sexual between members of the same sex, scholar Todd Reeser studies how the meaning of platonic love in Plato’s original sense underwent a transformation during the Renaissance, leading to the contemporary sense of nonsexual heterosexual love.
The English term “platonic” dates back to William Davenant‘s The Platonick Lovers, performed in 1635, a critique of the philosophy of platonic love which was popular at Charles I‘s court. The play was derived from the concept in Plato’s Symposium of a person’s love for the idea of good, which he considered to lie at the root of all virtue and truth. For a brief period, platonic love was a fashionable subject at the English royal court, especially in the circle around Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I. Platonic love was the theme of some of the courtly masques performed in the Caroline era, though the fashion for this soon waned under pressures of social and political change.
Throughout these eras, platonic love was slowly categorized into seven different classical definitions. These were:
- Eros: sexual or passionate love, or a modern perspective of romantic love.
- Philia: the love of friendship or goodwill, often met with mutual benefits that can also be formed by companionship, dependability, and trust.
- Storge: the love found between parents and children, often a unilateral love.
- Agape: the universal love, consisting of love for strangers, nature, or God.
- Ludus: playful and uncommitted love, intended for fun with no resulting consequences.
- Pragma: love founded on duty and reason, and one’s longer-term interests.
- Philautia: self-love, both healthy or unhealthy; unhealthy if one places oneself above the gods (to the point of hubris), and healthy if it is used to build self-esteem and confidence.
Despite the variety and number of definitions, the different distinctions between types of love were not considered concrete and mutually exclusive, and were often considered to blend into one another at certain points.”