Confucius? Japanese Proverb? Chinese Proverb? William Elliot Griffis? Jeff Bezos?
Dear Quote Investigator: Seeking vengeance can backfire on an individual and lead to additional pain and suffering. The founding CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, referenced a powerful cautionary proverb about revenge during an interview in 2016 although he expressed uncertainty about its origin: 1
It’s attributed to Confucius. Who knows if it’s really Confucius or not, but: “Seek revenge and you should dig two graves, one for yourself”.
Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?
Quote Investigator: Researchers have been unable to find this statement in the writings of Confucius. The earliest partial match known to QI appeared in an 1876 history book about Japan called “The Mikado’s Empire” by William Elliot Griffis who presented a list of Japanese proverbs which included the following. The statement in the second line provided an interpretation of the proverb. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2
If you call down a curse on any one, look out for two graves.
(“Curses, like young chickens, always come home to roost.”)
This precursor statement did not mention the motivation of revenge. Yet, this saying evolved over time, and by 1915 the word “revenge” appeared instead of “curse”. See further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- YouTube video, Title: Jeff Bezos vs. Peter Thiel and Donald Trump | Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon | Code Conference 2016, Uploaded on May 31, 2016, Uploaded by Recode, (Quotation starts at 24 minute 13 seconds of 1 hour 20 minutes 27 seconds) Description: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos talks with The Verge’s Walt Mossberg, (Accessed on youtube.com on June 1, 2016) link ↩
- 1876, The Mikado’s Empire, Book I: History of Japan From 660 B.C. to 1872 A.D., Book II: Personal Experiences, Observations, and Studies in Japan: 1870-1874 by William Elliot Griffis (Late of the Imperial University of Tokio, Japan), Chapter XIV: Japanese Proverbs, Start Page 504, Quote Page 511, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩