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, justly or unjustly, as a form of justice.
Some societies believe that the punishment in revenge should be more than the original injury. For example a poll of over 1800 Americans showed that about 40% would support the death penalty for child rape.

Somebody once wrote, "Revenge is a dish that has to be eaten cold." Hot as you are, you're liable to end up with indigestion.

Ryan (Lee Van Cleef|Lee Van Cleef), Death Rides a Horse (Da uomo a uomo) (1968)

The desire for revenge keeps one's wounds open.

Leonid S. Sukhorukov, All About Everything (2005)

"Crom|Crom, I have never prayed to you before, I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad, why we fought or how we died. No, all that matters, is that few stood against many. That's what's important. Valor pleases you, Crom, so grant me one request: grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to hell with you!"

Conan the Barbarian|Conan, W:Conan the Barbarian (film)|Conan the Barbarian (1982).

"Revenge is the prime ingredient in the fountain of youth."

Clockwerk, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

"Revenge is like a poison. It can take you over, before you know it, it had turn you into something ugly."

Aunt Mary, W:Spider-man 3|Spider-man 3

"If you wish for revenge, an equally hard blow will be dealt back to yourself."

Yūko Ichihara, W:xxxHOLIC|xxxHOLIC

"In certain, extreme situations, the law is inadequate. In order to shame its inadequacy, it is necessary to act outside the law. To pursue - natural justice. This is not vengeance. Revenge is not a valid motive, it's an emotional response. No, not vengeance. Punishment."

Frank Castle, The Punisher

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, justly or unjustly, as a form of justice.

Function in society

Some societies believe that the punishment in revenge should be more than the original injury. For example a poll of over 1800 Americans showed that about 40% would support the death penalty for child rape.

Detractors argue that revenge is a simple logical fallacy, of the same design as "two wrongs make a right
Two wrongs make a right
Two wrongs make a right is an English phrases and a logical fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that if one wrong is committed, another wrong will cancel it out.*Speaker A: You shouldn't embezzle from your employer. It's against the law....

". Some assert that the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

's concept of reciprocal justice "an eye for an eye
An eye for an eye
The meaning of the principle, an eye for an eye, is that a person who has injured another person receives the same injury in compensation. The exact Latin to English translation of this phrase is actually "The law of retaliation." At the root of this principle is that one of the purposes of the...

" (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
Blood Feud
"Blood Feud" is the twenty-second and final episode of The Simpsons second season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on July 11, 1991. In the episode, Mr. Burns falls ill and desperately needs a blood transfusion. Homer discovers Bart has Burns' rare blood type and urges...

, vendetta
Vendetta may refer to:*Feud, a long-running argument or fight between parties-Film and television:* Vendetta, a 1919 German film featuring Harry Liedtke* Vendetta , an American drama produced by Howard Hughes...

, 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. 3:25, cf., in the NT, Rom. 12:19).

Of the psychological, moral, and cultural foundation for revenge, philosopher Martha Nussbaum
Martha Nussbaum
Martha Nussbaum , is an American philosopher with a particular interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, political philosophy and ethics....

 has written: "The primitive sense of the just—remarkably constant from several ancient cultures to modern institutions ...—starts from the notion that a human life ... is a vulnerable thing, a thing that can be invaded, wounded, violated by another's act in many ways. For this penetration, the only remedy that seems appropriate is a counter invasion, equally deliberate, equally grave. And to right the balance truly, the retribution
Retributive justice
Retributive justice is a theory of justice that considers that punishment, if proportionate, is a morally acceptable response to crime, with an eye to the satisfaction and psychological benefits it can bestow to the aggrieved party, its intimates and society....

 must be exactly, strictly proportional to the original encroachment. It differs from the original act only in the sequence of time and in the fact that it is response rather than original act—a fact frequently obscured if there is a long sequence of acts and counteracts".

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," says social psychologist Ian McKee.

Revenge in religion

Many religions condemn revenge.

Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 commands its followers to forgive their enemies. Whether the death penalty and the use of the military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 are compatible with Christianity vary on the sect and individual's beliefs and interpretation of the Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...


Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 forbids revenge for small sins such as insults and things like stealing. For large crimes, such as murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

, 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 (in Judaism, nobody, not even God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

, can forgive crimes committed towards another person ).

In Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

, revenge is sometimes permissible (depending on the situation and sect/group of Islam) but forgiveness is preferable.

Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 condemns revenge as stemming from ego
See also Egoism Ego is a Latin word meaning "I", cognate with the Greek "Εγώ " meaning "I", often used in English to mean the "self", "identity" or other related concepts.It may also refer to:...

 and attachment
Attachment may refer to:Attachment- An emotional connection. Attachment involves being dependent on someone for something: emotional, mental or physical....


In contrast to many other religions, LaVeyan Satanism
LaVeyan Satanism
LaVeyan Satanism, often referred to simply as Satanism among most adherents, was founded in 1966 by Anton LaVey. Its teachings are based on individualism, self-control and "eye for an eye" morality. Drawing influences from the rituals and ceremonies of occultist Aleister Crowley and the...

 promotes "vengeance" as a core tenet.


A feud , referred to in more extreme cases as a blood feud, vendetta, faida, or private war, is a long-running argument or fight between parties—often groups of people, especially families or clans. Feuds begin because one party perceives itself to have been attacked, insulted or wronged by another...

 or "blood feuds" are cycles of provocation and retaliation, fuelled by a burning desire for revenge and carried out over long period of time by familial or tribal groups; they were an important part of many pre-industrial societies
Pre-industrial society
Pre-industrial society refers to specific social attributes and forms of political and cultural organization that were prevalent before the advent of the Industrial Revolution. It is followed by the industrial society....

, especially in the Mediterranean region. They still persist in some areas, notably in Albania
Albania , officially known as the Republic of Albania , is a country in Southeastern Europe, in the Balkans region. It is bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south and southeast. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea...

 with its tradition of gjakmarrja
In line with Albania's social code known as Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit or simply Kanun , someone is allowed to kill another person to avenge an earlier murder or moral humiliation. Gjakmarrja In line with Albania's social code known as Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit or simply Kanun , someone is allowed to...

or 'blood feuds.' During the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, 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.

In Japan's feudal past, the Samurai
is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. According to translator William Scott Wilson: "In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau...

 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
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 is Nemo Me Impune Lacessit
Nemo me impune lacessit
Nemo me impune lacessit is the Latin motto of the Order of the Thistle and of three Scottish regiments of the British Army. The motto also appears, in conjunction with the collar of the Order of the Thistle, in later versions of the Royal coat of arms of the Kingdom of Scotland and subsequently in...

, Latin for 'None shall provoke/injure me with impunity'. The origin of the motto reflects the feudal clan
Scottish clan
Scottish clans , give a sense of identity and shared descent to people in Scotland and to their relations throughout the world, with a formal structure of Clan Chiefs recognised by the court of the Lord Lyon, King of Arms which acts as an authority concerning matters of heraldry and Coat of Arms...

 system of ancient Scotland, particularly the Highlands
Scottish Highlands
The Highlands is an historic region of Scotland. The area is sometimes referred to as the "Scottish Highlands". It was culturally distinguishable from the Lowlands from the later Middle Ages into the modern period, when Lowland Scots replaced Scottish Gaelic throughout most of the Lowlands...


The goal of some legal systems is limited to "just" revenge — in the fashion of the contrapasso
Contrapasso refers to the punishment of souls in Dante's Inferno, "by a process either resembling or contrasting with the sin itself." A similar process, though a penitential one, occurs in the Purgatorio.One of many examples of contrapasso occurs in the 4th Bolgia , where the sorcerers,...

 punishments awaiting those consigned to Dante's Inferno
The Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321. It is widely considered the preeminent work of Italian literature, and is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature...

, 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
Reeducation may refer to:* A euphemism for Brainwashing, efforts aimed at instilling certain beliefs in people against their will* Reeducation through labor, also called laojiao, a form of penal detention in China; or the Soviet gulags for "re-education of class enemies" and reintegrating them...

 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 first written appearance of the proverb "revenge is a dish best served cold" is often wrongly credited to the novel Les liaisons dangereuses
Les Liaisons dangereuses
Les Liaisons dangereuses is a French epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos, first published in four volumes by Durand Neveu from March 23, 1782....

(1782); it does not, in fact, appear there in any form. It is also said to have been borrowed by late 19th century British writers from the Afghan Pashtuns. However, its earliest identified appearance in European literature is in the 1841 French novel Mathilde by Marie Joseph Eugène Sue
Eugène Sue
Joseph Marie Eugène Sue was a French novelist.He was born in Paris, the son of a distinguished surgeon in Napoleon's army, and is said to have had the Empress Joséphine for godmother. Sue himself acted as surgeon both in the Spanish campaign undertaken by France in 1823 and at the Battle of Navarino...

: la vengeance se mange très-bien froide — there italicized as if quoting a proverbial saying — published in English translation in 1846 as revenge is very good eaten cold.

The popularly familiar wording can be attributed to The Godfather
The Godfather (novel)
The Godfather is a crime novel written by Italian American author Mario Puzo, originally published in 1969 by G. P. Putnam's Sons. It details the story of a fictitious Sicilian Mafia family based in New York City and headed by Don Vito Corleone, who became synonymous with the Italian Mafia...

by Mario Puzo
Mario Puzo
Mario Gianluigi Puzo was an American author and screenwriter, known for his novels about the Mafia, including The Godfather , which he later co-adapted into a film by Francis Ford Coppola...

, a major bestseller in 1969, but the 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets
Kind Hearts and Coronets
Kind Hearts and Coronets is a 1949 British black comedy feature film. The plot is loosely based on the 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman, with the screenplay written by Robert Hamer and John Dighton and the film directed by Hamer...

had it as revenge is a dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold. The familiar wording more recently appears in the title sequence of the 2003 Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Jerome Tarantino is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer and actor. In the early 1990s, he began his career as an independent filmmaker with films employing nonlinear storylines and the aestheticization of violence...

 film Kill Bill: Vol 1, first used as an "Old Klingon
Klingons are a fictional warrior race in the Star Trek universe.Klingons are recurring villains in the 1960s television show Star Trek: The Original Series, and have appeared in all five spin-off series and eight feature films...

 Proverb", referencing its use in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a 1982 American science fiction film released by Paramount Pictures. The film is the second feature based on the Star Trek science fiction franchise. The plot features James T...

, which so cites it.

The proverb suggests that revenge is more satisfying as a considered response enacted when unexpected, or long feared, inverting the more traditional revulsion toward 'cold-blooded' violence. In early literature it is used, usually, to persuade another to forestall vengeance until wisdom can reassert itself. This sense is lost in recent presentations.

Another proverb, attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius
Confucius , literally "Master Kong", was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period....

, 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.

Revenge in the Arts

The desire for revenge is an easily understood emotion, making it a popular subject in literature, drama and other arts. Notable examples of this common theme include the plays Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

and Othello
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story "Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565...

by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, the novel The Count of Monte Cristo
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Count of Monte Cristo is an adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas. It is often considered to be, along with The Three Musketeers, Dumas's most popular work. He completed the work in 1844...

by Alexandre Dumas, père
Alexandre Dumas, père
Alexandre Dumas, , born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie was a French writer, best known for his historical novels of high adventure which have made him one of the most widely read French authors in the world...

, the short story "The Cask of Amontillado
The Cask of Amontillado
"The Cask of Amontillado" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in the November 1846 issue of Godey's Lady's Book....

" by Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

, the Greek myths of Medea
Medea is a woman in Greek mythology. She was the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, niece of Circe, granddaughter of the sun god Helios, and later wife to the hero Jason, with whom she had two children, Mermeros and Pheres. In Euripides's play Medea, Jason leaves Medea when Creon, king of...

, the painting Herodias' Revenge by Juan de Flandes
Juan de Flandes
Juan de Flandes was an Early Netherlandish painter who was active in Spain from 1496 to 1519; his actual name is unknown, although an inscription Juan Astrat on the back of one work suggests a name such as "Jan van der Staat"...

, the poem "Revenge" by Letitia Elizabeth Landon
Letitia Elizabeth Landon
Letitia Elizabeth Landon , English poet and novelist, better known by her initials L. E. L.- Early life :...

, the opera Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni is an opera in two acts with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and with an Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. It was premiered by the Prague Italian opera at the Teatro di Praga on October 29, 1787...

by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...

, the novel and movie The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride is a 1973 fantasy novel written by William Goldman. It was originally published in the United States by Harcourt Brace, while in the UK it is/was published by Bloomsbury Publishing....

by William Goldman
William Goldman
William Goldman is an American novelist, playwright, and Academy Award-winning screenwriter.-Early life and education:...

, and various woodblock prints depicting the Revenge of the Forty-Seven Ronin
Forty-seven Ronin
The revenge of the , also known as the Forty-seven Samurai, the Akō vendetta, or the took place in Japan at the start of the 18th century...

 by many well-known and influential Japanese artists, including Kuniyoshi
was one of the last great masters of the Japanese ukiyo-e style of woodblock prints and painting. He is associated with the Utagawa school.The range of Kuniyoshi's preferred subjects included many genres: landscapes, beautiful women, Kabuki actors, cats, and mythical animals. He is known for...


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

See also

  • Crime of passion
    Crime of passion
    A crime of passion, or crime passionnel, in popular usage, refers to a crime in which the perpetrator commits a crime, especially assault or murder, against someone because of sudden strong impulse such as sudden rage or heartbreak rather than as a premeditated crime...

  • Forgiveness
    Forgiveness is typically defined as the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. The Oxford English Dictionary defines forgiveness as 'to grant free pardon and to give up all...

  • Honour
    Honour or honor is an abstract concept entailing a perceived quality of worthiness and respectability that affects both the social standing and the self-evaluation of an individual or corporate body such as a family, school, regiment or nation...

  • Lawsuit
    A lawsuit or "suit in law" is a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff, a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant's actions, demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff's complaint...

  • Nemesis (mythology)
    Nemesis (mythology)
    In Greek mythology, Nemesis , also called Rhamnousia/Rhamnusia at her sanctuary at Rhamnous, north of Marathon, was the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris . The Greeks personified vengeful fate as a remorseless goddess: the goddess of revenge...

  • Retributive justice
    Retributive justice
    Retributive justice is a theory of justice that considers that punishment, if proportionate, is a morally acceptable response to crime, with an eye to the satisfaction and psychological benefits it can bestow to the aggrieved party, its intimates and society....

  • Vigilantism
  • Vendetta
    Vendetta may refer to:*Feud, a long-running argument or fight between parties-Film and television:* Vendetta, a 1919 German film featuring Harry Liedtke* Vendetta , an American drama produced by Howard Hughes...

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