Love. It’s a topic that writers, poets, artists, and even philosophers have put their minds to, and everyone expresses it differently. Whether rejoicing over a love reciprocated or lamenting over a love lost, some expressions of love can endure for centuries—or even millennia. Some of the oldest recorded annals in history include discussion of the topic of love. These quotes express the timelessness of romance across the ages.
Ancient Chinese philosopher Kong Qui, best known by the Western version of his name, Confucius, pondered many topics regarding life and the meaning of existence. His writings from the fifth and sixth century BCE endure to this day. Among his quotes on love is this one: “It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get.” This quote expresses that although love is hard-earned and difficult to sustain, considering the way people act and evolve, it’s still worth fighting for. Hating may be easier, since it’s easier to dismiss people than to accept them, flaws and all, but it’s not good.
Another ancient Chinese philosopher who lived in the seventh and sixth centuries BCE was Lao Tzu (sometimes called Laozi). He founded Taoism, a school of philosophy that deeply pondered life. On love, one of the things he said was, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” This beautiful quote shows how the love of others can bolster you to find the strength you need to accomplish your tasks, while loving someone else can make you braver. This is especially clear when you consider people who risk their own lives to protect the people they love.
Sun Tzu, or Sun Wu, who also lived in China in the sixth century BCE, is perhaps most famous for the book still studied today, The Art of War, which discusses strategies for winning a war swiftly and with minimal sacrifice—philosophies sometimes applicable to non-violent conflict as well. His quote, “All is fair in love and war” is perhaps even more famous than the philosopher himself. It expresses the sometimes maniacal obsession someone madly in love may go to in order to win the heart of the object of his affection, especially when other suitors are vying for the same heart. You may not necessarily do things you’re proud of, but the quote stresses that the end result is more important than how you achieved that result – just as it is in war.
Classical thinker Socrates, widely considered one of the founders of Western philosophy as we know it today, lived in Greece in the fifth century BCE. His Socratic method involved attempting to solve a problem or find the answer to an issue by breaking it down into smaller questions and attempting to answer those questions one by one. On marriage, he said, “By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” This is likely a dig at his own wife, Xanthippe, who is said to have had a wild temperament. It does, however, convey the idea that a happy life is possible if you love your spouse and if your spouse isn’t who you hoped he’d be, you can focus on other things. (Of course, these days you can divorce as well.)
Socrates’ student Plato is also a famous figure in Western philosophy. He lived in Greece in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. On love, Plato wrote, “He whom love touches not walks in darkness.” This shines a light on the beauty of love and how it can make a cold, dark life alone far brighter.
Some of the oldest known quotes about love make ideal additions to your wedding vows, your proposal, or any declaration of love. Or use them to inspire your own musings on the subject. When you sit and ponder how people have been thinking about love (both the positives and the negatives of the emotion) since the earliest days of written history, you can find yourself in awe of the vastness of the subject.