By Katie King
In our open discussion forum in Slack, OGB member Tim Suddarth had a great question. So great, we thought it needed to be fleshed out for the purpose of this blog post.
Here is Tim’s question:
I need help understanding the saying on the back of the t-shirt, “The noble things are difficult.” To me, wearing a printed statement is the same as saying it myself. If I say something, I want to know what I mean, especially if asked for an explanation. The words of the saying are not difficult, but the specific meaning in its context, as it relates to OGB. Am I saying that the great books are difficult to read, and therefore noble? Or am I saying that reading them is difficult, and is, therefore, a noble effort? Am I congratulating myself for the fact that I use some of my spare time to enrich myself with knowledge? Do I think I’m better than other people, or that my reading list is superior to theirs? Or is this saying referring to something we learn from reading the great books- that we should pursue more difficult occupations if we desire to be noble? Am I admonishing others or reminding myself? In the one case, I would be giving out unsolicited advice, and in the other, I would need two mirrors.
In typically OGB fashion, our community had plenty of helpful things to say. One answer, from OGB Interlocector John Pascarella, particularly stood out:
Here’s the Greek [translation]. It’s an old proverb, one of the first I learned when I studied the language 9 years ago: χαλεπὰ τὰ καλά.Translated literally in its word order, the proverb says, “Difficult the noble/beautiful things.” When I recommended the proverb for Online Great Books, the intention was (and still is) to say that undertaking the challenge of reading the Great Books is a noble/beautiful work that is, by its very nature, difficult. The texts are difficult, but more importantly, sustaining the effort over a long period of time to get to know the intellectual heritage of the West by working directly with its greatest authors is both difficult and noble. Is it elitist to pursue a noble work? Sure, but from what I see here with members of this community, no one’s choosing OGB to be elitist. They’re choosing to do something noble/beautiful because tey realize there’s something they’re missing. If anyone’s offended by that or thinks you’re an intellectual snob for wanting to do something noble/beautiful, the problem is with them, not you. You shouldn’t feel defensive about your choice to be in this program. It’s quite fitting that the lbieral education you’ve chosen is one you chose freely. And is freedom not a noble/beautiful thing?
If I had to translate this Greek proverb into a commonly held phrase today, I’d probably say something like, “when the going gets tough, the tough get goin’.”
From what I can tell, every member here at OGB feels a certain call of duty to pursue a life of doing noble works, called to a life filled with beauty.
It’s hard to pinpoint what noble means without touching on virtue. Liberality, for instance, can be tricky. How does liberality of our time, and resources, overlap with noble works?
John had a response for this as well:
From the perspective of the virtue of magnificence, if the work inspires wonder and is of great cost (but doesn’t deplete one’s own resources), it could be noble because the ability to inspire wonder reflects your ability to see that. And it’s hard to make the case for liberality if it requires expending too much of your own substance, because then you can’t be liberal again. This is where the influence of Christianity on the virtues is interesting, since there is a moment in the Gospels where Jesus praises a poor woman for giving proportionally more of her own wealth than a rich man. There we have to wonder what the relationship between liberality and charity is.
The pursuit of noble deeds has been an unearthing experience for many of our members. With the help of the entire OGB community, each person embarks on their own hero’s journey, collecting the most beautiful and highest things from all of Western civilization, bringing them back to life in the modern era.
It’s no easy feat, but isn’t that the point?