Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

Great thinkers have recently been grappling with what 'happiness' is, and various answers have emerged that have surely never occurred to anyone before: 'love and friendship', to which 'respect, family, standing and fun' have been added. Who would have thought it?

Ancient Greeks would have narrowed those six down to three. They would have matched 'family' with 'friendship' and seen both as aspects of philia, feebly translated as 'friendship' but actually meaning something like 'being in a relationship with someone who makes common cause with you' (philia is cognate with Latin suus, 'one's own'). Greeks famously divided society into 'friends' and 'enemies', and urged doing good to the one and harm to the other.

Second, they would have matched '[being shown] respect' with 'standing', the one being impossible without the other. Homeric heroes, living as they did in the public spotlight on the battlefield and in the debating chamber, driven by fear of failure and the shame that this would incur, longed for timê, 'high valuation, honour, status, worth', in the eyes of their fellows.

Finally, Greeks would probably have matched 'love' with 'fun', since they tended to associate 'love' with what we think of as 'lurve' and therefore 'sex'. …

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