AskDefine | Define revenge

Dictionary Definition

revenge n : action taken in return for an injury or offense [syn: retaliation] v : take revenge for a perceived wrong; "He wants to avenge the murder of his brother" [syn: avenge, retaliate]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Any form of personal retaliatory action against an individual, institution, or group for some perceived harm or injustice.
    Indifference is the sweetest revenge.


See also

Extensive Definition

Revenge (also vengeance, retribution, or vendetta amongst others) consists primarily of retaliation against a person or group in response to a perceived wrongdoing. Although many aspects of revenge resemble or echo the concept of justice, revenge usually has a more injurious than harmonious goal. The goal of revenge usually consists of forcing the perceived wrongdoer to suffer the same pain that was originally inflicted.

Function in society

In some societies, it is believed that the punishment in revenge should be more than the original injury, as a punitive measure. The Old Testament philosophy of "an eye for an eye" (cf. Exodus 21:24) tried to moderate the allowed damage, in order to avoid a vendetta or series of violent acts that could spiral out of control—instead of 'tenfold' vengeance, there would be a simple 'equality of suffering'. Detractors argue that revenge is a simple logical fallacy, of the same design as "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. Indeed, every major religious system contains some method for the mediation of disputes and for the limitation of vengeance by imputing a sense of cosmic justice to replace the often faulty justice systems of the human world.
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 counter invasion, 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" .

History of revenge

In ancient societies, in particular those with weak central justice systems, the method for deterring murder was to allow the victim's family to avenge the killing. However, if the families of the killer and victim disagreed in their moral assessment of the killing, they would most likely disagree as well in their assessment of any revenge actions which were taken, and a blood feud might ensue.
Vendettas or "blood feuds" are sequences of acts and counter-acts motivated by revenge and carried out over long period of time by familial or tribal groups in a quest for justice or retaliation; they were an important part of many pre-industrial societies, especially in the Mediterranean region, and still persist in some areas. 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. 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 through the practice of revenge killings, or "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 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" evinced by countries such as the United States continuing the practice of capital punishment.
Interestingly, 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 credited to the 18th century novel Les liaisons dangereuses, but since it doesn't actually appear in the original French language text, the validity of this attribution is unclear. The English version of this phrase in that exact wording, and arguably the most famous account of this, can be attributed to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. However the phrase appeared in the 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets as "revenge is a dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold". The more well-known wording of this quote is also featured in the title sequence of the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill: Vol 1, accredited as an "Old Klingon Proverb", referencing the phrase's usage in Star Trek II, where it is similarly cited as such. It means that to be successful, revenge should be a considered and planned response enacted when the time is right, rather than a hasty and 'hot-blooded' action which will increase the chances of failure.

Revenge in art and culture

Revenge has been a popular theme for art and culture throughout history. Examples from the classics include: The Oresteia, The Revenger's Tragedy, Hamlet, Don Giovanni, "The Cask of Amontillado", La Forza del Destino, Moby-Dick, Othello, Macbeth, Titus Andronicus, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Revenge is also a prevalent theme in hardboiled fiction; e.g., Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett, The Hunter by Richard Stark, several works by Mickey Spillane.
Revenge is also a prominent theme in contemporary motion pictures; e.g., The Punisher, V for Vendetta, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Kill Bill, or Park Chan-wook's Vengeance trilogy are archetypal artistic portrayals of revenge. Revenge is also portrayed in the motion picture, Prom Night where a sadistic killer gets vengeance for his sister's murder.
Other movies deal with this concept in a more fantastic or futuristic setting, such as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where Khan's hatred of Kirk and his desire for revenge would became so intense that Khan would lose everything, even his own life in his efforts for revenge. This intense desire to obtain revenge above all else can be witnessed in Khan's dialogue:
"He tasks me! He tasks me! And I shall have him. I'll chase him round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom and round perdition's flames before I give him up!"


revenge in Danish: Hævn
revenge in German: Rache
revenge in Spanish: Venganza
revenge in Esperanto: Venĝo
revenge in French: Vengeance
revenge in Italian: Vendetta (psicosociologia)
revenge in Malay (macrolanguage): Dendam
revenge in Dutch: Wraak
revenge in Japanese: 報復
revenge in Norwegian: Hevn
revenge in Occitan (post 1500): Revenja
revenge in Polish: Zemsta (etyka)
revenge in Portuguese: Vingança
revenge in Russian: Месть
revenge in Albanian: Gjakmarrja
revenge in Serbian: Крвна освета
revenge in Finnish: Kosto
revenge in Swedish: Hämnd
revenge in Chinese: 報復

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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