DEUS-X-MACHINA expands the idea of a ‚god from the machine‘ from ancient Greek theater.
Greek theatre was a unique theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece from 700 BC, especially in the city-state of Athens. The plays were an institutionalised part of a festival called the Dionysia and basically was the most advanced media at its time.
It served the need of any complex society to have forums where the members can discuss important topics. By commissioning the plays for the very season all the decsision makers of the Greek society – politicians, military, businessmen, priests – could be targeted with a message that would reach also those who were not good at wrtiing.
Theater would introduce the hot topcs and induce the public discourse, thus being the first formal way of inforsmration distribution and propaganda in a democratic society. and .
which became a significant cultural, political, and religious place during this period, was its centre, where the
Dionysia – A political festival
The festival honoured the god Dionysus, responsible among other things for exstasis and a direct, sensual connection to the gods. It used three different dramatic genres styles to convey the messages which we basically still draw on today:
Athens exported the festival to its numerous colonies and thus created a reoccuring learning experience for their citizens.
With its clear concepts of storytelling Greek theatre is the ancestor not only for modern Western theatre but basically all forms of drama: this includes movies, television and since a few years streaming services like Netflix. The patterns how the Korean series Squid Game suddenly have global influences is touted in the need of humans to identify with heroes and heroines.
The way and the terminology how we analyze any storytelling today are rooted in Grek theatre: from the classification into genres to the archetyes of its themes, their stock characters and plot elements.
Deus ex Machina – Gods from the machine
Actors who were playing gods were brought onto the stage using a crane or lift to resolve a dramatic situation.
Deus ex machina is a Latin calque from Greek ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός (apò mēkhanês theós) ‚god from the machine‘. The term was coined from the conventions of ancient Greek theater, where actors who were playing gods were brought onto stage using a machine. The machine could be either a crane (mechane) used to lower actors from above or a riser that brought them up through a trapdoor. Aeschylus introduced the idea, and it was used often to resolve the conflict and conclude the drama. The device is associated mostly with Greek tragedy, although it also appeared in comedies.
Aeschylus used the device in his Eumenides, but it became an established stage machine with Euripides. More than half of Euripides‘ extant tragedies employ a deus ex machina in their resolution, and some critics claim that Euripides invented it, not Aeschylus. A frequently cited example is Euripides‘ Medea, in which the deus ex machina is a dragon-drawn chariot sent by the sun god, used to convey his granddaughter Medea away from her husband Jason to the safety of Athens. In Alcestis, the heroine agrees to give up her own life to spare the life of her husband Admetus. At the end, Heracles shows up and seizes Alcestis from Death, restoring her to life and to Admetus.
The device produced an immediate emotional response from Greek audiences. They would have a feeling of wonder and astonishment at the appearance of the gods, which would often add to the moral effect of the drama.
Modern theatrical examples
Characters ascend into heaven to become gods at the end of the 1650 play Andromède
Shakespeare uses the device in As You Like It, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, and Cymbeline. John Gay uses it in The Beggar’s Opera where a character breaks the action and rewrites the ending as a reprieve from hanging for MacHeath. During the politically turbulent 17th and 18th centuries, the deus ex machina was sometimes used to make a controversial thesis more palatable to the powers of the day. For example, in the final scene of Molière’s Tartuffe, the heroes are saved from a terrible fate by an agent of the compassionate, all-seeing King Louis XIV — the same king who held Molière’s career and livelihood in his hands.
Aristotle was the first to use a Greek term equivalent to the Latin phrase deus ex machina to describe the technique as a device to resolve the plot of tragedies. It is generally deemed undesirable in writing and often implies a lack of creativity on the part of the author. The reasons for this are that it does damage to the story’s internal logic and is often so unlikely that it challenges suspension of disbelief, allowing the author to conclude the story with an unlikely ending.
Though the use of a deus ex machina device is often criticized as inartistic, too convenient, and overly simplistic it has been used and implemented in many genres.
The Martians in H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds have destroyed everything in their path and apparently triumphed over humanity, but they are suddenly killed by bacteria.
In the novel Lord of the Flies, a passing navy officer rescues the stranded children. William Golding called that a „gimmick“, other critics view it as a deus ex machina. The abrupt ending conveys the terrible fate that would have afflicted the children if the officer had not arrived at that moment.
J. R. R. Tolkien referred to the Great Eagles that appear in several places in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as „a dangerous ‚machine'“. This was in a letter refusing permission to a film adapter to have the Fellowship of the Ring transported by eagles rather than traveling on foot. He felt that the eagles had already been overused as a plot device and they have elsewhere been critiqued as a deus ex machina.
Charles Dickens used the device in Oliver Twist when Rose Maylie turns out to be the long-lost sister of Agnes, and therefore Oliver’s aunt; she marries her long-time sweetheart Harry, allowing Oliver to live happily with his savior Mr. Brownlow.
Avengers: Endgame writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely admitted the time travel plot device in the 2019 mega blockbuster was the result of having written themselves into a corner in the previous movie.[Also, the sudden arrival of Captain Marvel in the climax of the film has been criticized as bordering on a Deus Ex Machina because „her late arrival to the final battle … feels like a function of her powers being too strong“.
The Ark of the Covenant, which serves largely as the MacGuffin in Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), serves as a deus ex machina at the ending of the film: When it seems that the protagonist, Indiana Jones, has been beaten by the Nazis, the wrath of God rises from the Ark and kills the antagonists.
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