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Eye for an Eye

Eye for an Eye Definition

man with an eye patch and parrot. eye for an eye cover.
Polly want a cracker?

Eye for an eye, A tooth for a tooth. If you injure or wrong another, you should be punished in a similar fashion. Often in ancient times the victim would carry out the punishment.


The phrase alludes to an ancient form of punishment where if you blinded someone, you would then be blinded. Accident or not.

Eye for an Eye Example

  1. You can’t just break Mike’s guitar because he busted your drums. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind!
  2. These trade wars with China need to end. a tooth for a tooth makes the whole world toothless.

Ghandi V. MLK

Mahatma Ghandi and  Manibehn Patel black and white. Eye for an eye example.
Mahatma Ghandi and Manibehn Patel

‘An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind’ is an inversion possibly more popular than the original saying. Often attributed to the famous activist for peace Mahatma Ghandi, Also Martin Luther King Jr. the famous civil rights activist and leader known for combating racial inequality. While this quote is thought by many to originate with Ghandi, It’s likely that it actually stems from A book by Jewish-American journalist Louis Fischer titled “Ghandi and Stalin” in which he uses the quote to describe ghandi’s views on violence[1].


The Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal tomb of the ancient Mughal emporer Shah Jahan. located in Uttar Pradesh, India

Sharia law still an ancient law in Islamic societies retains a practice from the Quran known as qisas or ‘retaliation in kind’. Although rare, punishments such as cutting off an ear or burning someone for blinding another have taken place in modern day. More often the accused is allowed to pay diyah or ‘blood money’ to compensate the victim[2].

Lex Looter

Lex talionis or the law of retaliation is an early Babylonian law that was present in the early roman legal system. The law gives the victim ‘talion’ or the right to punish the wrongdoer. Lex talionis laws were cruel, but in-fact were often in place to prevent perpetrators from succumbing to even greater retribution by the victim or even the state. As an example killing someone outright for stealing some bread. The Twelve Tables was a set of laws & punishments inscribed in bronze tablets created in ancient Rome so all citizens might be treated equally, and while some punishments listed included death, many called for monetary compensation[3][4].

Trevi Fountain in Rome.
The Trevi Fountain of Rome, Italy

Eye for an Eye Origin

Literary Origin

The bible contains the earliest example of the idiom in text as we know it today. Although in a more literal sense. The Tyndale bible credited as the first English bible dates back to 1494–1536. However the Old Testament, originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic dates as far as 1200 BC.

“22 “If men strive and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no misfortune follow, he shall be surely punished according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
23 And if any misfortune follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.[5]

-Exodus 21:22-25, 21st Century King James Version

Many recognize this phrase from the bible and it is found in the books of Exodus & Leviticus.
“17 And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.
18 And he that killeth a beast shall make it good, beast for beast.
19 And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbor, as he hath done, so shall it be done to him—
20 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.
21 And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it; and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.
22 Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger as for one of your own country; for I am the Lord your God.[6]

-Leviticus 24:17-22 , 21st Century King James Bible version

Spiritual Origin

In 1754 B.C.E existed a set of 282 laws inscribed in a stone pillar. These laws are the Code of Hammurabi. They were discovered in Iran in what was once the ancient city of Susa. This Code dates back to ancient Mesopotamia. Claimed by many to be the first civilization. It is thousands of years older than the bible. The laws ere created by Hammurabi. The most well known Babylonian ruler and Mesopotamian king. The title idiom is a paraphrasing of this oldest example of written law. The law states such that a son must lose his hand for striking his father. Or cutting off the breast of a wet nurse who switches a mother’s baby for another without them knowing[7].

This code of law also contains examples of differing punishments depending on social status, example “if a man strikes a free-born woman so that she loses her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss.” another example “if a man has caught either a male or female runaway slave in the open field and has brought him back to his owner, the owner of the slave shall give him two shekels of silver.[7]

A common theme in societies where these laws exist is that one can pay monetary retribution in lieu of any physical punishment, but of course only if one can afford it.