Carl Abel, ph. dr.
The conception of love in some ancient and modern languages.
In specialising 'love,' the Romans made a primary distinction between spontaneous affection and affection accorded as a matter of duty. In each of these they recognised two distinct shades. To the Romans spontaneous inclination either rested upon a feeling in which intelligent recognition of personal worth had gradually ripened into a warmer appreciation of the goodness and amiability of the individual beloved ; or it was pure feeling, which, welling up from the secret depths of the soul, and defying the restraints of ordinary reflection, might rapidly run through all the various intervening stages between mere gratification of the finer susceptibilities and the mighty flow of an overpowering passion. The former more judicious and discerning kind of spontaneous love the Romans denoted by 'diligere ' l the latter more impulsive one by 'amare.'
In dutiful love, also, two stages were acknowledged 'caritas' and 'pietas.' 'Caritas' is the moral sanction bestowed upon the bond of nature that links us to parents, brothers, sisters, and tried friends the loving allegiance due to those associated with us as mates and helpful companions in our earthly career. 'Pietas' looks in the same direction, but from a higher point of view. Lending to the ethic glow of loyal attachment the more sublime sanctity of religion and faith, it regards fidelity to relatives and allies, not as a mere moral and intersocial duty, but as an obligation to the gods themselves. The sphere of 'pietas' extends not quite so far down, but reaches somewhat higher up than that of 'caritas ;' a middle range they both have in common. ' Pietas ' was seldom applied to feelings the Bomans cherished as friends, the attachment of a friend being purely volitional, and not a divinely ordained tie. All the more frequently the meaning of the word mounted up into celestial regions, wherein the ancients strove to yield themselves up to the Deity. ' Pietas ' was peculiarly the sentiment by which, from humility and gratitude combined, man should feel himself bound to the gods. For the expression of Roman devotion to country, parents, and children, however, ' caritas ' and ' pietas ' served alike, according as more stress was laid upon the ethical or the religious nature of these lofty duties. The distinction drawn between spontaneous affection and the prescriptive love for parents, husbands, children, relatives, and friends is likewise illustrated by the use of the adjectives. In classical Latin 'carus' means 'loved' in all cases of dutiful affection ; to apply to these 'amatus' would be frivolous. It is certainly otherwise with ' loving’ which is 'amans' even in the relations in which 'loved' is rendered by 'carus,' but with a special point. The playfulness attached to 'amans' by this use became so conspicuous that the word frequently meant 'amantissimus.'
A general, and, in its generality, necessarily indefinite word for almost the whole range of the feelings analysed was 'affectus.' Originally expressing but a vague impulse of interest or feeling, it soon came to denote a sensation which, however warm, was too transient, and took too little account of itself, to be designated by any more definite word. In this sense 'affectus' is a real affection, strong indeed, but not steady enough to ripen into conviction and declare itself as 'amor,' 'pietas,' 'caritas,' or 'dilectio ;' or which, even if it endures, has in it too much of passionate caprice to be able to make its choice between the different kinds of love, and expand into either the one or the other. Accordingly it is more impulsive than true ; given more to profession than fulfilment ; more exacting than vouchsafing. In the course of time, however, it assumed yet another and superior meaning. When, in the steady development of Roman society, existing differences of rank and opinion became more marked, and a corresponding reserve supervened in the expression of emotion, ' affectus ' came to be used for more quiet and persistent feeling. The play of feeling being in those later days fettered by many a social and individual restraint, ' affectus/ under the loose cloak of its meaning, without prejudice either to the truth or the ardour of the sentiment, was used to hide 'love.' It gradually became a word by which love might be spoken of allusively, and which implied love without mentioning it. When, together with the entire mental attitude of the Roman people, ‘affectus ' had raised itself to this stage of development, it was more frequently used for the designation of love than formerly, when indeed it spake more clearly, but, by its very demonstrativeness, made its instability too apparent to admit of being regarded as a deep and serious feeling. The old ' affectus ' is a clinging to persons and things, the possession of which is sought by uncontrolled impulse ; the later is a restful, sincere love, not exactly demonstrative, but eminently reliable. The former is often used in reference to the beauty of woman ; the latter preferably employed in respect of the relation between parents and children and friends.
An interesting difference separates 'affectus' from ' affectio.' Both words come from the same stem ; of the derivative syllables with which they are formed, tio, generally speaking, denotes a becoming, while tus is affixed to signify that which has become. In the present case, however, it is the reverse. ' Affectus ' is the more indefinite word, in which there is a play of all manner of shades, and which only by degrees succeeds in evolving a settled and pointed sense ; ' affectio,' from the very first, is a more exact, more clearly defined conception. For the explanation of this exceptional etymology we have to look to the vague purport of the stem from which both are derived. Since the termination tus indicates something effected, ' affectus’, as the stem has an ambiguous meaning, cannot but likewise embrace a wide and undetermined sense. In it that which has been effected, and accordingly exists, is the genuine child of a fickle parent, whose features it faithfully reflects. With ' affectio ' it is otherwise. A certain degree of deliberate concentration is required to watch the growth of a thing which, even when complete, is not a tangible entity, but a dim, fluid feeling, imperfectly condensed from the nebulous state. Hence ' affectio/ as part of the dictionary, is the product of reflection, whilst ' affectus/ as a concept, has sprung from the immediate observation of quick and susceptible but inconstant feelings. How these arise, only an attentive observer can tell. Too transient to remain long under the lens or to repay the observer for a special effort, they are neither easily scanned nor rapidly determined as to their essence and drift. But all the more certainly will faithful study ensure comparative precision, and lead to corresponding conclusions. ' Affectio ' has, accordingly, a visible tendency to crystallise the transient interest from which it takes its rise into a more intense feeling, and conceive it as a lasting sentiment. Whilst the ripe ' affectus ' is eager but fickle, ' affectio’ by analysing its growth, describes a less violent but more constant and earnest emotion. The same difference is apparent in another peculiarity of their application. 'Affectus ' is seldom used for ' love’ unless this exceptional meaning of the ambiguous word is made obvious by the context ; ' affectio’ on the other hand, defines the meaning of ' love ' sufficiently well to be able to express it by itself without elucidatory surroundings.
There still remains to be considered what, to the Roman world, was a characteristic kind of serviceable attachment or loving service ' studium.' In the olden days the political and social organisation of the commonwealth, in its essential features at least, was thought to be so good, so natural, and honourable an arrangement, that the subordinate looked upon services to his superior as a moral duty, and actually loved and cherished the patronus whose protection afforded him a place in the state. Based upon interdependence, interest became so interwoven with affection, that what was found to be advantageous and conducive to mutual profit was also regarded as auspicious and good. Not only on account of the palpable benefits derived, but also because of the sanctifying relation supposed to exist between the recognition and the gift, ' studium ' was the legitimate predilection each man felt for his nearest political masters, patrons, and friends. The important word denoted the intense devotion a man acknowledged to those who represented his interests in the state and raised him from an outlawed nondescript the natural position of man in antiquity to the rank of a recognised being, endowed with the right to exist and the claim to be respected. To this was superadded the further meaning of devotion to country, party, or revered persons, willingly served, even in the absence of a social or tribal tie. The most general meaning is good-will to man. Mutual love and service are, as a rule, presupposed by the word, restting, as it does, on the basis of an active interdependence. Even when occasionally expressing a superior's sentiments to wards a subordinate, mutual benefit is a constant feature in the serious term.
With these remarks on their tenor and drift, we couple some observations on the form of these interesting words. ‘Caritas ' and ' pietas ' are substantives, having, as a complement, corresponding adjectives, but no verbs. The reason is obvious. The concepts they express are assumed to be innate qualities of the human soul, displayed not only in action, but existing and influential even when there is no occasion for outward display. ' Diligere,' on the other hand, is solely a verb, and only in post-classic times produced a substantive, which was seldom used and can hardly be called Roman. The opposite of 'pietas' and ' caritas’ the meaning of ' diligere ' enables us to discover the cause of this formal difference. ' Pietas ' and ' caritas ' towards friends, relations, the country, and the gods, were dutiful sentiments of every right-minded Roman, man, woman, and child ; they were latent in the soul even though not exhibited every instant ; they were permanent realities, and therefore substantives. On the other hand, 'diligere ' is to love from choice. ' Diligere ' selects, esteems, and honours. It does not exist at all except when it acts, and consequently it is a verb. Being indispensable permanencies, even when they have not the opportunity of manifesting themselves, and seem to slumber in the recesses of the soul, ' pietas' and ‘caritas ' are therefore substantives; 'diligere’ as a practised faculty, must be a verb. For more varied and comprehensive use, and therefore in the verbal as well as the substantive form, we have the four remaining words ' amor,' ' studium’ ' affectus’ and ‘affectio.' The passion of ' amor ' is at once an active power and an innate element of the soul, a verb therefore, and at the same time a substantive. By its inmost nature ' studium ' is likewise driven to exert itself, whilst, on the strength of its ardent attachment, it claims at the same time to be an enduring reality : an 'amor ' transferred from ideal regions to the temperate zone of social intercourse, and ennobled by the fervent recognition of the mutual need with which it exalts the exchange of services and favours between man and man. Alike active and stable, this fervent notion suitably clothes itself in verbal as well as substantive dress. Bearing in mind that the verb attached to them does not go beyond the sense of 1 making an impression,' we can extend the same remark to 'affectus' and 'affectio.' In accordance with the usual condensation of meaning occurring in their positive part of speech, these two substantives display a pregnant reinforcement of the sense of the verb 'afficere.' From a mere ' making impression ' they transform the signification of their verb into a prompt albeit fugitive attachment. While the process of ' impression-making ' lasts, as happens in the case of the verb, no attachment has as yet been established ; the impression once made, it is but too frequently something more of a reality and a substantive than could have been foreseen.
The Englishman's love is always a free gift, depending more upon the will of the giver than upon social relations or kinship. Its various kinds differ from each other, not according to the relative position of the parties concerned, but according to the warmth and colouring infused by personal feeling. When the national mind is so disposed, it is only natural that almost every one of the English words for ' love ' should admit of being applied at will, independently of all other personal relations.
The most general designation is 'love.' Originally the passion which seeks to enjoy the presence and sympathy of the beloved, it has gradually come to be far more than this. With the desire for sweet communion it unites a more or less prominent spiritual trait, ennobling the passion and enlisting it into the unselfish service of the ideal. It thus becomes a real enthusiasm for the beautiful and the Good, which for the time being is seen embodied in the beloved object, and which by most men is acknowledged only in this short span of the springtime of the soul.
It culminates in a transient self-exaltation of his own nature, during which man is apt to fancy he has found a charm that shall give him a new joy in existence, impart a fresh purity of will, and bestow increased fitness for the battle of life.*
* To some languages the difference between the love of woman and the ideal enthusiasm inspired by it appears so considerable that it is marked by special words. In Danish, the former description of love is ' Kjaerlighed,' the latter 'Elskov.'
¬As primitive antiquity differs from this cultured century and the devout past from the sceptical present, so is the ancient Jewish ' love ' opposed to the forms of the same concept prevailing in modern Europe. The various kinds of love possible between men the Hebrew distinguished as abstract and concrete, as inactive and active. Abstract and inactive love seemed to him essentially the same feeling whenever and wherever it arose ; the active sentiment he distinguished according to the character and relative position of the loving and the motives from which it sprang.
As long as love was described as mere feeling, one word sufficed to designate it in all its various relations between man and man ; but where stress was laid upon the beneficent purposes which accompany love and the felicitous results produced by it, he keenly saw manifold grades, and used several words of peculiarly delicate and specific synonymy. If this mode of conceiving love reflects only too well social relations, in which less count was taken of the intention than the deed, yet the deed, it should be observed, is ennobled by love, studious and deliberate love, which inspires the beneficent act. This is beautifully in accord with the attribution of the feeling, in all its Hebraic shades, to Jehovah, and with the derivation of all earthly love from the divine Fountain-head, which sanctifies its manifestations in the life of man.
' Ahav,' love as pure feeling which indeed may prove active, but does not need to do so in order to come up to its inherent idea designates love between man and woman, as well as between parents and children, brothers and sisters, between friends, mates, acquaintances, and all men generally ; figuratively, also, love for things, propensity to certain actions, even when modified to mere liking. It displays an inner proclivity without expressing itself as to the cause thereof, and, leaving this point altogether undetermined, has a tendency to appear to emanate from a warm heart rather than from a cool head. As between man and woman, it includes both passion and conjugal affection. The latter meaning is exemplified by the common Talmudic expressions, ' ahavas n'urim, esches n'urim,' 'the love of youth’, 'the wife of youth ; ' in the former more passionate sense ' ahav ' is capable of the highest poetic embellishment, as we find in Solomon's Song, where love is held ' as a banner over the beloved,' and all nature searched for florid imagery to portray its sweetness. Love's sacrifice, also, which gladly enters the service of the beloved being, and neither spares nor feels any trouble in promoting his or her good, has, from the earliest time, been added to the meaning of the word. Soaring into transcendental spheres, it comes to denote a passion which rates itself higher than all earthly things, and shines forth as the one absorbing ideal of life. 20 However, in this latter sense, now so general with European poets, the Hebraic term was but seldom used. Jewish antiquity, doubtless, knew the mood which throws away life in order to gratify love. But it regarded the feeling as the ebullition of hot, rash, and inconsiderate youth. They did not in those days suffer amorous despair to become a recognised condition of the soul, justified by and indicative of a glorious devotion to real or assumed worth. Still less did they permit love to degenerate into one of the conventional elegancies of life.
All these are innovations.