The War of Victory and Wisdom
How the ancient Greeks defined the never-ending battle between being right and being wise
The ancient Greeks pinned down some fundamental human truths that run hot in our veins to this day. That’s probably why so many of our symbols, colloquialisms, business names, and brand logos can be traced back to some kind of Greek heritage. They were thinkers, wrestlers, fighters, and observers of all that occurred around them, and they recorded all of those ideas. Thank God for that.
I recently stumbled blindly into a pair of phrases used in the Greek vernacular, and I can’t seem shake their harrowing importance. It must be my love of etymology, linguistics, the spoken word, and written thought all coming to bear in a juicy-fruit that tastes way too good not to share.
Philia Sophia and Philia Nike.
Starting with the common six letters these two threads share, Philia. Greek for the highest form of love, they somehow managed to cram the deepest and most meaningful compilation of human emotion, real and sacred love, into one six-letter zinger. While the word might be a short one, I don’t believe the characteristics they intend to communicate should be overlooked. There is something incredibly important embedded into the highest form of love.
The Greeks understood something that we are consistently starting to miss in the twenty-first century. To them, love wasn’t just love. The buck didn’t stop with that single four-letter blip — encompassing everything from sexual desire to self-acceptance, to spiritual participation. No, they had specific terms used to dictate the exact form of love they were exchanging. Which is critical to our own explanation of our emotional and mental circumstances. It’s not a coincidental joke that John 1:1 outsets with, “In the beginning, there was the word.” The word, the sound, the thought behind the voice — that’s our power, our own divine miracle to explore enlightenment.
The Greeks knew that, those brilliant bastards. So they gave that love, the highest order of love, it’s own label. If that’s not celestial, I don’t know what is.
And of course, as they tended to do, they took it a few steps further, characterizing their distinctions of love through the embodiment of the beautiful goddess. Or rather, pair of goddesses.
Sophia. The Goddess of Wisdom. I can’t help but appreciate the tact in personifying such a magnificent idea. It only seems appropriate to do so — using the most complicated mechanism that’s ever walked the face of the earth, the human mind, as an adjective for the most difficult task of humanity — to seek and temper wisdom in all things. When boiled down further, the culminating terminology becomes philia sophia, or philosophia. And therein lies the origin for the word we know today, philosophy. The highest order or love for the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.
Nike. The Goddess of Victory. Born from the union of Styx and Pallas, the former being the goddess of the corrosive river Styx in the underworld, and the later being a titan god of warcraft. Interesting that the manifestation of victory should be birthed from the substance of hell and hatred combined with the engagement of battle. In no subtle fashion, the Greeks once again uncover a paramount humanistic truth: nothing is all good, nothing is all bad. Even the gods of heaven and hell stood together in their generational struggle for dominion of the universe.
Today, we mix up our love, labeling it as one emotion with four simple letters. It’s sex, it’s marriage, it’s familial, it’s brotherly, it’s… kind of lost, in all honesty. Does our love today even really know what it is? Some lay back, claiming it’s the only answer, vibing to the music and mood of the moment. Others act as though the only way to express it is through corporeal intimacy. We’ve industrialized our love, just like Walmart — a one-size-fits-all, get-it-now while it’s fresh and hot feeling, stripped down to just four elementary letters. The Greeks would probably cackle at our misuse of language.
We use love to label our relationships, forgetting that its versatility leaks into our behaviors, thoughts, and actions. We’ve become obsessed with a philia nike approach to our conversations, our self-talk, our pursuit of education. We need to be right, whatever the cost. We need to win the fight, leaving carnage in our wake, with our ends justifying our means. So consumed in arrogant victory, a monomaniacal lens through which we see the world.
Slipping down the banks of our brains, the hold of philia sophia is loosening — she’s weeping by the wayside. Wondering when the ultimate love will shift back from being right, toward the the genuine pursuit of wisdom. Toward listening, admitting, understanding, compromising, engaging, and enacting in charity. Her tears cutting down her stone-rosy cheeks, she waits inside every soul. She’s the potential to grow, battle-axe in hand, prepared to fight your inner holy-war.