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"Retaliation" and "Retaliate" redirect here. For other uses, see Retaliation (disambiguation) and Revenge (disambiguation).

Revenge is a harmful action against a person or group in response to a grievance, be it real or perceived. It is also called payback, retribution, retaliation or vengeance; it may be characterized as a form of justice (not to be confused with retributive justice), an altruistic action which enforces societal or moral justice aside from the legal system. Francis Bacon described it as a kind of "wild justice" that "does... offend the law [and] putteth the law out of office".[1]

Function in society[edit]

Engraving by Gustave Doré illustrating the Erinyes, chthonic deities of vengeance and death
Shakespeare's Hamlet tells a history in which a man avenged the murder of his father by killing his uncle[2] (Artist: Gustave Moreau)

Detractors argue that revenge is simply wrong, of the same design as "two wrongs make a right".

Social psychologist Ian Mckee says the desire for the sustenance of power motivates vengeful behavior as a means of impression management: "People who are more vengeful tend to be those who are motivated by power, by authority and by the desire for status. They don't want to lose face."[3][4]

Revenge dynamics[edit]

Some societies encourage the revengeful behavior which is called blood feud. These societies usually attribute the honour of individuals and groups a central role. Thus, while protecting of his reputation an avenger feels as if he restores the previous state of dignity and justice. According to Michael Ignatieff, "revenge is a profound moral desire to keep faith with the dead, to honour their memory by taking up their cause where they left off." [5] Thus, honour may become a heritage that passes from generation to generation. Whenever it is compromised, the affected family or community members might feel compelled to retaliate against an offender to restore the initial "balance of honour" that preceded the perceived injury. This cycle of honour might expand by bringing the family members and then the entire community of the new victim into the brand-new cycle of revenge that may pervade generations.[6]


German announcement of killing 2300 civilians in Kragujevac massacre as retaliation for 10 killed German soldiers. Nazi-occupied Serbia, 1941

Feuds are cycles of provocation and retaliation, fuelled by a burning desire for revenge and carried out over long periods of time by familial or tribal groups; they were an important part of many pre-industrial societies, especially in the Mediterranean region. They still persist in some areas, notably in Albania with its tradition of gjakmarrja or 'blood feuds.'[7] During the Middle Ages, most would not regard an insult or injury as settled until it was avenged, or, at the least, paid for — hence, the extensive Anglo-Saxon system of wergild (literally, "man-price") payments, which placed a certain monetary value upon certain acts of violence in an attempt to limit the spiral of revenge by codifying the responsibility of a malefactor.

Blood feuds are still practised in many parts of the world, including Kurdish regions of Turkey and in Papua New Guinea.[8][9]

In Japan's feudal past, the Samurai class upheld the honour of their family, clan, or lord through the practice of revenge killings (敵討ち katakiuchi). These killings could also involve the relatives of an offender. Today, katakiuchi is most often pursued by peaceful means, but revenge remains an important part of Japanese culture.

The motto of Scotland is Nemo Me Impune Lacessit, Latin for 'Nobody shall provoke/injure me with impunity'. The origin of the motto reflects the feudal clan system of ancient Scotland, particularly the Highlands.

The goal of some legal systems is limited to "just" revenge — in the fashion of the contrapasso punishments awaiting those consigned to Dante's Inferno, some have attempted to turn the crime against the criminal, in clever and often gruesome ways.

Modern Western legal systems usually state as their goal the reform or re-education of a convicted criminal. Even in these systems, however, society is considered the victim of a criminal's actions, and the notion of vengeance for such acts is an important part of the concept of justice — a criminal "pays his debt to society".

Psychologists have found that the thwarted psychological expectation of revenge may lead to issues of victimhood.[citation needed]

Arabia during Muhammad's era[edit]

The Islamic Prophet Muhammad ordered many military campaigns as retaliation or revenge for his slain comrades. Likewise his enemies also took revenge against Muslims. One of the earliest examples was during the Expedition of Al Raji ordered by Muhammad in 625.[10] During this expedition some men requested that Muhammad send instructors to teach them Islam,[10] but the men were bribed by the two tribes of Khuzaymah who wanted revenge for the assassination of Khalid bin Sufyan by Muhammad's followers.[11] According to William Montgomery Watt, the seven men Muhammad sent may have been spies for Muhammad and instructors for Arab tribes.[12] Watt's claim that they were spies and not missionaries is mentioned in the Sunni hadith collection Sahih al-Bukhari [13]

The Battle of the Trench took place in February 627 [14] because the Banu Nadir and Banu Qaynuqa tribes formed an alliance with the Quraysh to attack Muhammad as revenge for expelling them from Medina.[15][16] The Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir states: "The reason why the Confederates came was that a group of the leaders of the Jews of Banu Nadir, whom the Messenger of Allah had expelled from Al-Madinah to Khaybar, including Sallam bin Abu Al-Huqayq, Sallam bin Mishkam and Kinanah bin Ar-Rabi`, went to Makkah where they met with the leaders of Quraysh and incited them to make war against the Prophet" [17]

Muhammad also ordered the Second Raid on Banu Thalabah in August 627 [18][19][20] to attack the tribe as revenge for the 1st failed raid in which 9 Muslims died.[21] This was followed by the Invasion of Banu Lahyan in September 627 [18][19] where he ordered his followers to attack to get revenge for the killing of 10 Muslims in the Expedition of Al Raji.[21] The Banu Lahyan tribe fled.[21]

Muhammad also ordered the Second Expedition of Wadi al-Qura in January 628 [19] to raid the inhabitants as revenge after a number of Muslims were killed in a previous failed attempt.[22] 30 horsemen[22] and 1 woman were killed by the Muslim army[23] with many more captured.[23]


The popular expression "revenge is a dish best served cold" suggests that revenge is more satisfying if enacted when unexpected or long feared, inverting traditional civilized revulsion toward 'cold-blooded' violence.[24]

The idea's origin is obscure. The French diplomat Talleyrand (1754–1838) has been credited with the saying La vengeance est un mets que l'on doit manger froid. [Revenge is a dish that should be eaten cold.], albeit without supporting detail.[25] It has been in the English language at least since the 1846 translation of the 1845 French novel Mathilde by Joseph Marie Eugène Sue: la vengeance se mange très-bien froide,[26] there italicized as if quoting a proverbial saying, and translated revenge is very good eaten cold.[27] It has been wrongly credited[28] to the novel Les liaisons dangereuses (1782).

Its path to modern popularity may begin with the 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets which had revenge is a dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold. The familiar wording appears in the film Death Rides a Horse (1967), in the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo (1969), as if from an "old Klingon Proverb" in the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and again in the title sequence of the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill: Vol 1 (2003) wherein it was jestfully cited as a Klingon proverb.

Another proverb states: "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." This is a translation of Confucious teaching - and he meant something quite different from what it seems in the English translation. The original version begins with "复仇不子也." It literally means a gentleman who does not take revenge is not a gentleman. He then added, "寝苫枕干不仕弗与共天下也遇诸市朝不反兵而斗." It means a gentleman may not take his revenge right away due to the circumstances but he will remember it everyday before falling into sleep. He then shall take the revenge when the timing is right, even if he must take the whole world with him (to end his own life). In other words, Confucious was not encouraging people to let go of the hatred, rather he reminds people the importance of revenge as it is part of the significance of one's dignity, and he was encouraging people to "dig two graves" because he believes that dignity is more important than one's life.

The phrase has also been credited to the Pashto people of Aghanistan.[29]

In the arts[edit]

Igagoe buyuden. This is an episode from a popular story of revenge--how the son of a murdered samurai tracked the killer over all Japan.

Revenge is a popular subject in literature, drama, and other arts. Notable examples include the plays Hamlet and Othello by William Shakespeare, the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, and the short story "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe. Other examples are the Greek myths of Medea, the painting Herodias' Revenge by Juan de Flandes, the opera Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the novel The Princess Bride by William Goldman. In Japanese art, revenge is a theme in various woodblock prints depicting the Revenge of the Forty-Seven Ronin by many well-known and influential artists, including Kuniyoshi. The Chinese playwright Ji Junxiang used revenge as the central theme in his theatrical work The Orphan of Zhao;[30] it depicts more specifically familial revenge, which is placed in the context of Confucian morality and social hierarchical structure.[31]

Some modern societies use tales of revenge to provide catharsis, or to condition their members against acting out of desire for retribution.[citation needed] In many of these works, tragedy is compounded when the person seeking revenge realizes they have become what they wished to destroy. However, in others, the consummation is depicted as satisfying and cathartic.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ The Killing Scene: Hamlet 5.2.303–309.
  3. ^ Michael Price (June 2009). Revenge and the people who seek it. 40, No. 6. p. Print version: page 34. Retrieved 1 October 2010. 
  4. ^ Ian McKee, PhD. 2008. Social Justice Research (Vol. 138, No. 2)
  5. ^ Brandon Hamber and Richard A. Wilson, Symbolic Closure through Memory, Reparation and Revenge in Post-conflict Societies (Johannesburg: Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, 1999)
  6. ^ Helena Yakovlev-Golani (2012). "Revenge - the Volcano of Despair: The Story of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict". Exploring the Facets of Revenge. p. 83. 
  7. ^ "Peacemaker breaks the ancient grip of Albania's blood feuds". CSM June 24, 2008
  8. ^ "Blood feuds and gun violence plague Turkey's southeast". Reuters. May 5, 2009
  9. ^ "Deadly twist to PNG's tribal feuds". BBC News. August 25, 2005
  10. ^ a b Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, p. 187. (online)
  11. ^ Watt, W. Montgomery (1956). Muhammad at Medina. Oxford University Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0195773071. The common version, however, is that B. Lihyan wanted to avenge the assassination of their chief at Muhammad's instigation, and bribed two clans of the tribe of Khuzaymah to say they wanted to become Muslims and ask Muhammad to send instructors.  (online)
  12. ^ Watt, W. Montgomery (1956). Muhammad at Medina. Oxford University Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-19-577307-1. The common version, however, is that B. Lihyan wanted to avenge the assassination of their chief at Muhammad's instigation, and bribed two clans of the tribe of Khuzaymah to say they wanted to become Muslims and ask Muhammad to send instructors.  (online)
  13. ^ Kailtyn Chick, Kailtyn Chick, p. 338, Hamlet Book Publishing , 2013
  14. ^ Muhammad Siddique Qureshi (1989), Foreign policy of Hadrat Muhammad (SAW), Islamic Publications, p. 216.
  15. ^ Sa'd, Ibn (1967). Kitab al-tabaqat al-kabir 2. Pakistan Historical Society. pp. 82–84. ASIN B0007JAWMK. 
  16. ^ Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, pp. 196-198. (online)
  17. ^ Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman, Tafsir Ibn Kathir Juz' 21 (Part 21): Al-Ankaboot 46 to Al-Azhab 30 2nd Edition, p. 122, MSA Publication Limited, 2009, ISBN 1861797338. (online)
  18. ^ a b Hawarey, Dr. Mosab (2010). The Journey of Prophecy; Days of Peace and War (Arabic). Islamic Book Trust. ISBN 9789957051648. Note: Book contains a list of battles of Muhammad in Arabic, English translation available here
  19. ^ a b c Abū Khalīl, Shawqī (2003). Atlas of the Quran. Dar-us-Salam. p. 242. ISBN 978-9960897547. (online)
  20. ^ Tabari, Al (2008), The foundation of the community, State University of New York Press, p. 119, ISBN 978-0887063442 
  21. ^ a b c Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, p. 205. (online)
  22. ^ a b Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, p. 211. (online)
  23. ^ a b Al Tabari, Michael Fishbein (translator) (1997), Volume 8, Victory of Islam, State University of New York Press, pp. 95–97, ISBN 9780791431504 
  24. ^ Jennifer Speake (2008). Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, 5th Ed. Oxford University Press. p. 576. Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  25. ^ Le Dictionnaire Marabout des pensées des auteurs du monde entier. Verviers: Gérard & Co. 1969. 
  26. ^ Eugène Sue (1845). Mathilde: mémoires d'une jeune femme. Welter. p. 148. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  27. ^ Marie Joseph Eugène Sue (1846). The orphan; or, Memoirs of Matilda, tr. [from Mathilde] by the hon. D.G. Osborne. p. 303. 
  28. ^ "The meaning and origin of the expression: Revenge is a dish best served cold". Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  29. ^ James Ferguson (2012). Taliban: The Unknown Enemy. Da Capo Press. 
  30. ^ Liu, Wu-Chi (1953). "The Original Orphan of China". Comparative Literature 5 (3): 195. JSTOR 1768912. 
  31. ^ Shi, Fei (2009). "Tragic Ways of Killing a Child: Staging Violence and Revenge in Classical Greek and Chinese Drama". In Constantinidis, Stratos E. Text & presentation, 2008. Jefferson: McFarland. p. 175. ISBN 9780786443666.