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
MAMA: …I thought I taught you to love him.
BENEATHA: Love him? There is nothing left to love.
MAMA: There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing. (Looking at her.) Have you cried for that boy today? I don’t mean for yourself and for the family ’cause we lost the money. I mean for him: what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well, then, you ain’t through learning—because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ’cause the world done whipped him so! . . .
—Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun, Act III
Act I, Scene 2 of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (1959)—the middle of a conversation. Beneatha, a twenty-year-old American, is speaking privately with Asagai, an intellectual from Nigeria who met her at the university:
Beneatha. Will you call me Monday?
Asagai. Yes . . . We have a great deal to talk about. I mean about identity and time and all that.
Asagai. Yes. About how much time one needs to know what one feels.
Beneatha. You see! You never understood that there is more than one kind of feeling which can exist between a man and a woman—or, at least, there should be.
Asagai (shaking his head negatively but gently). No. Between a man and a woman there need be only one kind of feeling. I have that for you . . . Now even . . . right this moment . . .
Beneatha. I know—and by itself—it won’t do. I can find that anywhere.
Asagai. For a woman it should be enough.
Beneatha. I know—because that’s what it says in all the novels that men write. But it isn’t. Go ahead and laugh—but I’m not interested in being someone’s little episode in America or—(with feminine vengeance)—one of them! (Asagai has burst into laughter again.) That’s funny . . . huh!
Asagai. It’s just that every American girl I have known has said that to me. White—black—in this you are all the same. And the same speech, too!
Beneatha (angrily). Yuk, yuk, yuk!
Asagai. It’s how you can be sure that the world’s most liberated women are not liberated at all. You all talk about it too much!
The teacher says, “I am my disciples.”
The disciples say, “How can this be?”
The teacher says, “How could I be your teacher if I were something else?”
From Plato’s Gorgias, 473A, Sach’s translation:
Polus: Well, Socrates, the things you’re trying to say are bizarre, anyway.
Socrates: And I’ll also try to make you say the same things with me, my comrade—because I consider you a friend. . . .