Retaliatory force

"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, an altruistic action which enforces societal or moral justice aside from the legal system. Francis Bacon described it as a kind of "wild justice".[1]

Function in society

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)

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

Some societies encourage the revengeful behavior which is called blood feud. These societies usually attribute the honor 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 honor their memory by taking up their cause where they left off." [5] Thus, honor 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 honor" that preceded the perceived injury. This cycle of honor 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]

Revenge in religion

Many religions condemn revenge, or promote it as eternal punishment.

Judaism forbids revenge for small sins such as insults and things like stealing. For large crimes, such as murder, the issue of revenge is more complicated. While some rabbis condemn all revenge, others consider feelings (though not necessarily actions) of revenge permissible in extreme cases such as murder, where the forgiveness of the person offended cannot be attained.

Some assert that the Hebrew Bible's concept of reciprocal justice "an eye for an eye" (Exod. 21:24) validates the concept of proportionate revenge, in which there would be a simple 'equality of suffering'; however Rabbinic law states this verse indicates a person should provide a monetary payment for the eye or tooth that was damaged, and does not require the assailant to receive physical damage. This view confounds the concepts of justice and revenge, and disregards the fact that "eye for an eye" justice was a philosophical advance on the normative practice of the day (see blood feud, infra) and that Judaic scripture elsewhere prescribes “Do not seek revenge . . . love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Also, the Hebrew Bible illustrates the concept that '"vengeance is mine" says the Lord' (Deut. 32:35, cf., in the NT, Rom. 12:19).

Hinduism focuses on dharma and karma, with revenge stemming from attachment to the physical plane. That being said, there are numerous instances of revenge in older scripture, particularly in the saga of Parashurama.

Buddhism condemns revenge as stemming from ego and attachment.

Denominations of Christianity generally command their followers to forgive their enemies. Christian views on death penalty and the use of the military are more subject to interpretation.

In Islam, if we agree with the previous definition of revenge, then revenge is forbidden and prohibited. For example, if one kills a person, then the other has the right to take revenge. Islam put conditions to this issue and the Executive Power is the only authority that has the right to take the required procedures and nobody else. Furthermore, Islam encourages the tolerance even in the killing condition.

LaVeyan Satanism promotes "vengeance" as a core tenet.[7]


Vendettas or "blood 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.'[8] 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.

Traditions similar to vendetta have existed almost everywhere. Blood feuds are still practised in many parts of the world, including Kurdish regions of Turkey and Papua New Guinea.[9][10]

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 conceived of as 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.


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.[11]

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.[12] 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,[13] there italicized as if quoting a proverbial saying, and translated revenge is very good eaten cold.[14] It has been wrongly credited[15] 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), and 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).

Another proverb states: "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." The implication here is that a desire for revenge may ultimately hurt the seeker as much as the victim. Alternatively, it may imply that you should be prepared to die yourself in the process of seeking revenge.

Revenge in the arts

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 his theatrical work The Orphan of Zhao;[16] it depicts more specifically familial revenge, which is placed in the context of Confucian morality and social hierarchal structure.[17]

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

In Matthew Stover's novelization of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, Emperor Palpataine and Anakin Skywalker have a conversation regarding the rightness or wrongness of revenge. When Anakin states that the actions he himself have taken in revenge are wrong, Palpatine tells him that "Revenge is the foundation of justice. Justice began with revenge, and revenge is still the only justice some beings can ever hope for."[18]

Revenge is the central theme of the ABC television series Revenge. It is the story of Emily Thorne, a young woman played by Emily VanCamp who takes revenge on those who killed her father. Revenge is also a central theme of the CBS television series The Mentalist. In this series, the titular mentalist, Patrick Jane, desires revenge upon the fictional serial killer Red John for the murder of his wife and daughter.

See also


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