For other uses, see Revenge (disambiguation).

Revenge or vengeance consists of retaliation against a person or group in response to perceived wrongdoing. Although many aspects of revenge resemble or echo the concept of making things equal, revenge usually has a more injurious than constructive goal. The vengeful wish to make the other side go through what they went through or make sure they'll never be able to do what they did again.

Revenge is a hotly contested ethical issue in philosophy. Some feel it is necessary to maintain a just society. In some societies, it is believed that the damage inflicted should be greater than the original one, as a punitive measure. The Old Testament philosophy of "an eye for an eye" (cf. Exodus 21:24) tried to limit the allowed damage to avoid a series of violent acts that spiral out of control. Detractors argue revenge is more like the logical fallacy "two wrongs make a right." Some Christians interpret Paul's "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19, King James Version) to mean that only God has the moral right to exact revenge.

Of the psychological, moral, and cultural foundation for revenge, philosopher Martha Nussbaum 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 counterinvasion, equally deliberate, equally grave. And to right the balance truly, the retribution 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" ("Equity and Mercy," in Sex and Social Justice [Oxford University Press, 1999], pp. 157-58).

Vendettas are sequences of acts and counteracts motivated by revenge and carried out over long stretches of time by groups in a quest for justice; they were an important part of many pre-industrial societies, especially in the Mediterranean region, and still persist in some areas. The Middle Ages would not regard an insult or injury as settled until avenged: the story of Wimund the Bishop illustrates the typical implacability of the time: its hero, though blinded and imprisoned, would avenge himself against his enemies if he had even but the eye of a sparrow.

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

The goal of some legal systems is limited to "just" revenge. However, a system evolved that substituted the damage of revenge with reparations like blood money or forcing a rapist to marry his victim. Modern Western legal systems usually state as their goal re-education or re-insertion. Even in these systems, the notion of justice as revenge is held by part of the society. A thwarted psychological expectation of revenge may lead to issues of victimhood.

Revenge has been a popular theme for art and culture throughout history. Many popular motion pictures have used it as a central theme, including Payback, Death Wish, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Kill Bill. Classic literary examples of revenge stories include The Oresteia, Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, Chushingura, Don Giovanni, La Forza del Destino, Moby-Dick, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Count of Monte Cristo.

Some productions show disapproval for revenge as in the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series episode, Heart of Ice. In this story, Mr. Freeze pursues a vendetta against a callous business executive, Harvey Boyle, whose interruption of a life saving, if unauthorized, procedure killed Freeze's wife and create his deadly intolerance of below freezing temperatures. Batman learns about this grudge and stops Freeze from murdering Boyle in revenge, but also presents evidence of Boyle's crime guarenteeing Boyle's arrest and giving Freeze justice. In Brother Bear, a young man starts a cycle of violent vengeance that brings more suffering to the loved ones around him that only ends when he realizes he had been wrong to start it and a young one he has grown to love and inadvertently harmed in his vendetta finds the wisdom and moral strength to forgive him. In Moby-Dick, Ahab's absurd desire for revenge against the white whale, a dumb beast that has no concept of this human desire, leads his ship and crew to ruin.

Quotations on Revenge

  • Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again. - Leviticus 24:20, King James Bible
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. - Romans 12:21
  • But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. - Matthew 5:44
  • Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. - Romans 12:19
  • If we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless. - Mahatma Gandhi
  • Revenge without respect to the example and profit to come is a triumph, or glorying in the hurt of another, tending to no end (for the end is always somewhat to come); and glorying to no end is vain-glory, and contrary to reason. - Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan
  • Revenge is best dealt with by forgetting it. - Japanese Buddhism (Pure Land school) in advice of a King about to be executed, to his son concerning his enemy, about to execute his father, the King.
  • "Vengeance on a dumb brute!" cried Starbuck, "that simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous." . . . "Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then I could do the other." - Moby-Dick

See also

de:Rache nl:Wraak

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