Pre-Qin Love (愛)
[Moving up to front, to restart discussion on this topic — see new comments]
Because it’s now come up twice, in separate places (here and here), I can’t stop thinking about this question: What does ai 愛, broadly translatable as “love,” connote? If I had the time, I would do some actual research into this. But since the antecedent of that conditional is false, I’m going to allow myself just to post the question and my initial thoughts, and see what others think. Let me paste here a version of the comment I made at Tang Dynasty Times, attempting to understand the early Chinese concept through some early Greek ones, and see what kinds of responses I get:
My sense of ai in early Chinese literature is that it is actually more like agape–along with philia–than eros. Lian 戀, along with perhaps se 色, captures the sense of eros much better. Ai seems very much reserved in Classical Chinese for these two senses:
1) kindly attachment and affection (sort of like philia and agape); benevolence, if the direction of hierarchy in the relationship is right
2) fondness; or in the verbal sense, to fancy (sort of like hao 好, in the Classical sense)
I can’t call to mind any instances of ai that I’ve come across that connote the type of longing and lustfully urgent desire that eros suggests.
Or maybe that’s too narrow a rendering of eros? Maybe. Still, I think the broad outlines of what I’m saying are right at least.
Afterthought: The meaning of agape isn’t determined by its use in Christianity. So, I don’t think that’s a factor here.
I might sound confident, but I’m happy, as always, to be set straight.