Newman’s Nook: Agape, Philia, and Eros

What is love and how do we define it?

In Episode 2 of Yuri!!! on Ice, the two male figure skaters named Yuri want to have the famous skater Viktor Nikiforov as their trainer. They want Viktor to help them prepare for international skating competitions. To decide whether or not he will take on either of them, Viktor proposes a competition between the two. He proposes two parallel music pieces and shows the accompanying choreography. The two are both about love – one is called “Agape” and the other “Eros.” He calls upon the Russian Yuri to skate to “Agape” and the Japanese Yuri to skate to “Eros.” The two men are uncertain at first and Viktor goes on to describe it through skating.

What we see is beautifully choreography and beautiful dancing upon the ice. We see during “Agape,” Viktor pour out and show us through interpretive skating what love in a friendship and brotherly sense of the word. We see compassion and connection on a personal level through this interpretive dance on skates. He shows friendship on a deep, connective level through each beautifully flowing movement. It is impressive and wows everyone. Then we see him perform “Eros.” It is erotic and sensual. His movements are fluid and purposefully meant to make you stare. They work well and the viewers themselves are once more mesmerized by his skating. This is what he wants the two Yuri’s to evoke. These are the emotions – agape love and eros love. There is a bit of a problem in that what Viktor describes isn’t quite agape.

Let me explain. In both cases, agape and eros, the words have Greek origins. Agape is love in its purest and most raw form. In the Greek it is intended to be the highest form of love, like that of the perfect God’s love toward mankind. This is not what Viktor describes. What he describes is philia love, or brotherly love. The love of camaraderie we have for our fellow man. The love of our neighbor. The love of our friends. It’s important, it’s critical, and it was done purposefully because the Russian Yuri lacks this type of love in his interactions with others. Then what is eros? Erotic love.

Eros is rooted in the name of the Greek god Eros, a god of love and son of Aphrodite. Traditional interpretations of Eros have him as an adult male embodying sexual power and energy. Viktor wants to see the Japanese Yuri present this type of love to the people through figure skating. He wants Yuri to ooze sex out of his pores so that his raw sexual energy comes out on full display for everyone. We see this on display in the next episode as Yuri successfully pulls off the choreography, with a few technical mistakes. It’s beautifully done and truly does ooze sex.

Love has a few different meanings as we see here so it begs the question, what do people mean when they say love? In a cultural context, it really can be confusing and unclear. People will shout that they love someone when really they are merely lusting for them. Some will say they love someone in a brotherly or familial way. Few will use agape love, pure unadulterated love in its most raw form.

Agape love is pure and complete. Agape love is self-sacrificing. Agape love puts the other entirely first. Agape love thinks not of its own wellbeing, but of the wellbeing of others. Christ displayed that type of love as He willingly gave His life for sinful man on the cross. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul describes love in a well documented passage in chapter 13 verses 4 through 7. Here is the text from the English Standard Version:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

While we’ve heard it said at weddings a million times, do we truly think about what this means. This is agape love. This is perfect love. This is a love that is patient even when the toilet seat is left up. This is love that is not boastful, even when you accomplish something great. This is love that is never rude to another, even when you feel they deserve it. This is a love that does not rejoice in the failure of anyone including an enemy. This is a love that will endure to the end through it all. How can one truly skate and display this type of love? It’s hard to imagine, but the other two types we are capable of displaying very clearly.

Philia love is on display as we love our friends and neighbors, putting their needs first. When we help out a friend, when we enjoy the closeness of our brothers or sisters and share our all with them. That’s philia love and the Russian Yuri displayed it very well. Viktor continues to show it to both Yuri’s at this point in the series. Eros is one we can and do display with regularity. While the Japanese Yuri jokes about his erotic love of pork cutlets, in reality we find ourselves drawn to others. Is sexual love okay? Let me be clear on this – yes, if it wasn’t then we’d cease to exist as a species. I spoke about this at length in March in my piece on hentai, sex, and culture. In the end, sexual love is right and good even from a Christian perspective when in the right context. Let me from March explain further:

Now, I’ve spoken all this time about sexual gratification from a hentai, pornographic mindset. It’s a wrong mindset and I’m firm in that belief. But, does that mean that sex is bad and wrong and awful? Absolutely not. Sex is a beautiful thing designed for marriage (Genesis 2:241 Corinthians 7:8-9). It is a moment where two become one flesh in a physical and spiritual union. God does not want us to be ashamed of sex, but to embrace it in a Biblically ordained manner within the marriage bed (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). Sex outside of marriage is not ordained by God and not endorsed (1 Corinthians 6:18). As Christ says, lust in the heart for a woman is adultery and sinful (Matthew 5:27-28). With lust being sinful, the act of sex outside of marriage is of course sinful as well. For those who know Christ, we are to control our sexual urges and keep them where they are a blessing – inside of marriage (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, Hebrews 13:4). Don’t believe me that the Bible is pro-sex in marriage? Let’s go to Song of Solomon for more.

W: Oh, that he would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is more delightful than wine. The fragrance of your perfume is intoxicating; your name is perfume poured out. No wonder young women adore you. Take me with you—let us hurry. Oh, that the king would bring me to his chambers.
Y: We will rejoice and be glad for you; we will praise your love more than wine.
W: It is only right that they adore you.
Song of Solomon 1:2-4

Oh, my. The W and Y are generally understood to be the woman (wife) and young women in the city where this takes place. The wife is speaking of how much she wants to be kissed, how intoxicating her husband is, how she adores him, how she knows other women want him, and how she wants him to take her to their marriage bed. Why yes, that is in the Bible. Why yes, the Bible does promote a sexual and intimate relationship between husband and wife and has since the beginning (Genesis 1:28Genesis 2:24). In fact, in many ways the initial definition of marriage was in fact defined by sex. We see this image painted most clearly in the story of Isaac and his wife Rebecca, whose marriage is not defined by a huge ceremony, but by the two going into their tent and consummating their union (Genesis 22:64-67).

Eros is fine within the marital context. While society tells us that free sex is all good, don’t listen. It’s hard to avoid it as it’s everywhere, but it’s worth avoiding. Sex within marriage is better, is more pure and connected, and you are with a partner who is ready to handle whatever the consequences may be; a partner who has chosen a life with you before God and family (and the state, but that’s another story).

Love can mean many things to many people. What we generally get is philia or eros love. What we want and crave is agape. Let us try each day to love more like that.

Matthew Newman is an environmental engineer (Professionally licensed in Maryland). He's also a husband, beard aficionado, Dad of four beautiful children, blogger, and all around geeky guy from Baltimore County. When he's not chasing his kids or working, he's probably asleep.
4 Comments on this post.

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  • Emdaisy1
    18 November 2016 at 2:12 pm

    “They work well and the viewers themselves are once more mesmerized by his skating.” Yeahhhh it’s *definitely* his skating that had me mesmerized… *cough* haha. 😛

    On a more serious note, it really is an interesting distinction. I tend to find that I especially appreciate the distinction in today’s society, which has blurred a lot of those lines. Sayings like “guys and girls can’t be ‘just friends'” and such really bother me. Like, yes, they can. They can have that philia love without any eros there. By the same token, eros is often distorted from being something based in love to being unattached sex. It’s been warped from being a form of *love* to being a form of sexual gratification. It’s also often forgotten that eros should probably stem from a firm foundation of philia – if you don’t start by being friends first, trying to jump into dating or marriage is like jumping off a ship without knowing how to swim. Some people figure it out and keep afloat, but others end up in over their heads.

    Leave a Reply
    • Anon
      20 November 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Not just “men and women can’t just be friends”, but sometimes it’s even like, you can’t become friends with anyone without sex getting in the way. Here’s a good article discussing how close friendship between people of the same gender gets mistaken for romance: https://fencingwithink.com/2012/12/01/friendship-is-gay/

      Sometimes it seems like society places greater value on eros than philios.

      And I love the idea of becoming friends first in a romantic relationship–it’s a good test of longevity, and it makes the resulting declaration of love sweeter. I personally don’t think that it’s romantic to rush into marriage.

      And ugh, I hate the notion of “f—buddies”.

      Also, I have noticed that some romantic love songs can be applied as “philios” songs, with just a few changes to the lyrics (or even no changes). For example, I love Katy Perry’s song, “Unconditionally”. I can see that as a song from a friend to another friend, declaring that she’s there for her friend, thru the good times and the bad.

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  • Takuto’s Anime Cafe
    27 November 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Interesting that you found Viktor’s misinterpretation (or the studio’s blurred vision) of philia love for agape love. I almost disregarded the other notions of love until further research on the topic. I enjoyed the way you described agape love, and the breakdown of how eros love can and should be respectful yet passionate was also very informative. Clearly, you know your stuff! I think that above all, we need more agape love–more genuine, devoted love–in our lives. It doesn’t have to be sexual, nor simply friendly, but giving for giving’s sake. On the ether hand, everyone also deserves the initiative of eros love. Viktor’s teaching style may not be comfortable for everyone, but it’s beyond that humble comfort zone that we get the real human experience, and I think that is what Viktor is trying to do for Katsuki.

    Since I’m feeling ambitious (and inspired) enough, I’d like to drop a link to my write up on Eros and Agape, Beyond the Lovely Ice-Skating Veils. In it, I cover basically the same ground, so if you’re interested here you go:

    https://animecafehost.wordpress.com/2016/10/28/eros-and-agape-behind-the-lovely-ice-skating-veils-cafe-talk/

    Thanks for the informative post!

    Leave a Reply
    • MRNewman
      29 November 2016 at 7:44 pm

      Thanks for the encouragement. People tend to muddy the waters when discussing love and mean only one of a few things. The classic Greek terms can make it easier to understand where people are coming from.

      Your discussions on Yuri!!! on Ice are interesting as well. I’ll have to catch up on the series before reading any more.

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