Deus ex Machina
the gods have something to say about it~
This Latin phrase originally described an ancient
plot device used in Greek and Roman theatre. Many tragedy writers used
Deus ex Machina to resolve complicated or even seemingly hopeless
situations in the plots of their plays. The phrase is loosely
translated as “god from the machine.” This translation refers to how
the Deus ex Machina was often performed in ancient theatre. An actor
playing a god or goddess would be lowered on stage by a “mechane” which
was the name of the crane device used.
The above diagram depicts the mechanics of the
"mechane". This device was the crane that the Greeks used in their
theatre mostly in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. The "mechane" was
composed of wooden beams and used a pulley system to pick up an actor
into the air and elevate them above the stage to simulate flight.
Mostly this device was used for Deus ex Machina purposes, but there
were a few instances of using the machine to introduce other non-divine
characters as in Euripides' "Medea."
The term Deus ex Machina is still used today,
however, it has taken on a broader meaning. Deus ex Machina is now the
phrase used to describe any situation where something unexpected or
implausible is brought in to the story line to resolve situations or
disentangle a plot. The resolution could come from a new character,
device, or event. The definition of this phrase has also been stretched
to include any story resolutions that are not drawn directly or
logically from the preceding plot and defy even the broad concept of
suspension of disbelief. The new and broader definition of Deus ex
Machina helps authors of such modern works to end their stories with
improbable but more acceptable conclusions.
A well-used example of this is the “it was all a dream” or “it was all
in his/her head” plot:
In ancient theatre, it was a god or goddess that was
introduced. Normally, a member of what was referred to as the Olympian
twelve: Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter, Apollo, Artemis, Athena, Ares,
Aphrodite, Hermes, Hephaestus. Dionysus, and sometimes Hestia.
Euripides was the most notable user of the Deus ex
Machina. He included this plot device in many of his plays. Many
scholars believe that he was the first to pioneer the concept.
Euripides’ had an almost notorious reputation for trying new ideas in
the tragedy genre. For instance he wrote his plays in a manner that
rendered the chorus independent from the primary action of the drama
and he used explanatory prologues to explain what happened preceding
the play and may have outlined events to come. His unconventional and
revolutionary ideas that toyed even with the traditional structure of
the tragedy garnered Euripides a lot of criticism. With this in mind,
it’s not too difficult to believe that he was the first to use Deus ex
Machina in a play. And, since Euripides was often criticized for his
ideas, it makes sense that he was the primary user of the concept out
of the three great writers of tragedy.
Euripides used Deus ex Machina more frequently than
any of the other tragedians, but he also used it in a different manner.
He went beyond utilizing it to solve difficult plot issues. Instead,
Euripides would use the Deus ex Machina to provide divine criticism,
approval, dissaproval, and insight into mankind and its actions.
Euripides brought in the gods and goddesses also to incorporate a
religious and devotional aspect. By using the deities in this manner he
emphasized the fact that man was subject to the gods who had ultimate
control. Yet, even though they had such control, Euripides also
referenced the imperfections that were famous among the Greek deities.
By incorporating the vendettas, feuds, jealousies, and other
imperfections amongst the gods and goddesses Euripides showed the
connections between human mortals and the gods in addition to showing
the ultimate control and power that the Greek deities possessed.
Some examples of Deus ex Machina in
Medea- When Medea is shown in the chariot of the sun god Helios, the
god himself isn't present. From her vantage point in the chariot she
watches the grieving Jason. It was thought that this particular scene
would have been accomplished using the same mechane designed for a Deus
Hippolytus- In this play three deities are present: the jealous
Aphrodite, Artemis the object of Hippolytus' devotion, and vengeful
Poseidon. However it is only Artemis who appears. She explains to
Theseus that Hippolytus was innocent all along and that it was
Aphrodite who had caused been manipulative and caused all the grief.
Additionaly in this appearance, Artemis vows to destroy any man
Aphrodite ever loves.
Andromache- At the end of this play, Thetis the sea goddess appears to
Peleus. She comes to take Peleus back with her to her ocean home. The
play ends with Peleus going with Thetis his wife, into the ocean.
Helen- In Helen, Theoclymenos becomes enraged when Helen and Menelaus
trick him and run away together. As a result, he tries to murder his
sister Theonoe for not telling him that Menelaus was not dead. The
demi-gods Castor and Polydeuces, Helen's brothers and sons of Zeus and
Leda, appear miraculously to intervene.
Orestes- In Euripides' Orestes, Apollo appears on stage to set
everything in order. Apollo closes up all the loose ends by revealing
that Helen had been put amongst the stars and therefore Menelaus should
return to Sparta. He also orders Orestes to journey to Athens to stand
trial in their court which will lead to his acquittal. Apollo also
states that Orestes will marry Hermione and that Pylades and Electra
will also marry.
Depicted here are Peleus and Thetis. Thetis is a sea goddess who
appears as Deus ex Machina in Euripides’ Andromache.
The Deus ex Machina remains a popular plot device
even today, being used in modern films, novels, and short stories.
Though its definition has been broadened to accomodate the greater and
different scope of its usage from ancient times, the main concept still
exists. The Deus ex Machina has been existence at least as early as the
fifth century BC. This convention swiftly became popular in early Greek
theatre but it began as a revolutionary idea from the mind of Euripides
one of the tragedy genres great innovators. Euripides may have been
known for using unconventional ideas in his plays and he may have
received a lot of criticism for it, but nonetheless the Deus ex Machina
would still persist as one of oldest, useful, and popular plot devices.
-Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia (wikipedia.com)
Abstract: Wikipedia provided a
lot of background information for this document. An article about Deus
ex Machina talked about the history as well as the modern connotations
of the phrase. Wikipedia also provided plot summaries of many of
Euripides plays which easily displayed where the Deus ex Machina
occured. It also provided the information on how the Deus ex Machina
would be performed and where it originated. It also talked about the
"mechane" device that was used to perform the Deus ex Machina.
Abstract: This website provided
information ranging from the structure of his
plays to a list of his surviving dramas. The encarta online article
talked about plot and the unconventional plot devices that Euripides
would use. It also mentioned Euripides development of the Deus ex
Machina as well as the criticism he would often recieve for his
unorthodox ideas for his plays.
R. B. The Deus Ex
Machina in Euripides. The Classical
Review. February-March, 1920. (p. 10-14). JSTOR.
Abstract: I used this
article that I discovered on JSTOR and summarized for my first
document. The article pertained heavily to my topic so I found it
particularly useful.This article discusses the use of the deus
ex machina in
Greek Tragedy. Specifically, this article refers to Euripides use of
device since he was known for using the deus ex machina ten times more
frequently in his works than in any of the other surviving works of
tragedians. The article specifies that Euripides didn’t use the deus ex
to simply solve difficult plot issues. Instead, Euripides usually
deus ex machina to provide divine criticism, approval, or disapproval
mankind and its actions. Bringing in the gods and goddesses, Euripides
incorporated the religion in a very complete way. He made reference to
vendettas and feuds amongst the gods as well as between gods and men.