Socrates: Therefore I was telling the truth when I said that it’s possible for a human being to do what seems good to him in a city without having great power and without doing what he wants.
Polus: Yeah, right, Socrates, as if you wouldn’t accept free rein to do what seemed good to you in the city rather than not, and wouldn’t be envious when you saw someone putting to death anyone that seemed good to him or seizing his property or locking him up.
Socrates: Justly, you mean, or unjustly?
Polus: Whichever way he might do it! Isn’t he someone to envy either way?
Socrates: Watch what you say, Polus.
Polus: Why’s that?
Socrates: Because one shouldn’t envy those who are unenviable or miserable, but pity them.
Polus: What? Is that the condition the people I’m talking about [i.e., tyrants, autocrats] seem to you to be in?
Socrates: How could it be any other way?
Polus: Then whoever puts to death anyone as it seems good to him, and puts him to death justly, seems to you to be miserable and pathetic?
Socrates: Not to me, but not enviable either.
Polus: Weren’t you claiming just now that he is miserable?
Socrates: The one who puts someone to death unjustly is, my comrade, and pathetic on top of it; the one who does so justly is not be envied.
Polus: I’d suppose it’s the one who’s put to death unjustly who’s pathetic and miserable.
Socrates: Less so than the one who puts him to death, Polus, and less so than someone who’s justly put to death.
Polus: How can that be, Socrates?
Socrates: In this way, that the greatest of evils is committing injustice.
Polus: That’s the greatest? Isn’t suffering injustice a greater one?
Socrates: That least of all.
Polus: So you’d rather suffer injustice than commit it?
Socrates: I wouldn’t want to do either one, but if it were necessary either to commit injustice or suffer it, I’d choose to suffer it rather than commit it.
—Plato, Gorgias 468E-469C
Translated by Joe Sachs