deus ex machina

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Deus ex machina in a production of the Medea des Euripides ( Syracuse , 2009)

The Deus ex machina [ ˈdeːʊs ɛks ˈmak h ina ] ( lat. God from a / the [theater] machine ; the Duden today specifies Deus ex Machina as the spelling) is a loan translation from the Greek ἀπὸ μηχανῆς Θεός ( apò mēchanḗs theós ) and originally referred to the appearance of a deity with the help of stage machinery . Today the expression is also used as a proverbial dramaturgical term for any solution to a conflict brought about by sudden, unmotivated events, persons or outside powers.


Model of the theater machine (5th century BC) in the Technical Museum of Thessaloniki

In ancient tragedy there were tragic conflicts that could not always be resolved by human action. Their rectification or decision was made 'from above' through the surprising intervention of a deity , who turned the event around.

The deus ex machina hovered in a crane-like lifting machine, the so-called theater machine, above the stage or landed on the roof of the stage building. The aim was to represent the power of the gods in the ancient imagination, and in fact, their interventions in the events on the stage were often surprising.

As examples of a Deus ex machina , Athena appear in the Eumenides of Aeschylus and in Iphigenia in Aulis of Euripides , and Heracles in Philoctetes by Sophocles. Gods can also appear in modern dramas , but then in ironic use (cf. Bertolt Brecht : The Good Man of Sezuan ; here, however, the gods are already responsible for the starting point of the play). Human stage characters can also take on the deus ex machina task of resolving a completely confused situation (cf. the 'King's messenger on horseback' in Brecht's Threepenny Opera , an element of the epic theater ). Likewise, the President in Friedrich Dürrenmatt's play Frank the Fifth ; similar, but with a turn for the worse , the director of the institution in his play Die Physiker . In the last five minutes of the play My Friend Harvey , a new character, a taxi driver, appears on stage who gives the stuck plot a turn for the better.

Cinematic examples are Shakespeare in Love , where the unmotivated appearance of Queen Elisabeth at the end untangles the seemingly inextricably interwoven threads of the intrigue, or Jurassic Park , where the protagonists are saved from the velociraptors by a tyrannosaurus that appears at the last second . In several westerns , a sudden, more or less sudden cavalry attack takes over the function.


As a justification for the appearance of the Deus ex machina in ancient poetry, one can hardly claim that man needs the “miracle of appearance” as an expression of divine or higher affection, if one takes into account Horace's instruction to the tragic poet: “nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus / inciderit ”(“ and no god is involved, unless an entanglement has arisen that demands a liberator ”). That means that only in exceptional cases, namely when no one is able to untie the knot, the poet may allow a god to intervene. An example of this is the appearance of the goddess Athena , who uses the Areopagus as a court of justice for the happy ending of the Aeschylean Oresty trilogy in Athens , because otherwise the mutually replying blood vengeance should never end. The soon-rise design of the Skenebaus even allowed for the ex machina been floated God increased landing which theologeion as such. B. is presupposed in the tragedies of Euripides.

In the Greek and Roman theater the deus ex machina appears surprisingly to the astonished audience . In the Middle Ages, witches and demons step out of the opening crevices with sulfur and smoke, and especially charismatic people appear to Mary , the mother of Jesus , saints and signs. The (film) theater of modern times uses the deus ex machina, for example, in the form of the well-known Western cliché that the cavalry appears at the end of the film and saves the protagonists . A deus ex machina can also be used to create a comic effect through the improbability or implausibility, for example in some skits and films by the British comedian group Monty Python .

Use of the term today

Today, Deus ex machina - in literature and everyday life - is usually used to describe an unexpected person or event who helps or brings the solution in an emergency situation. In the entertainment media, the deus ex machina is often a tool used by authors to move the story in the desired direction by simple, unexplained means, which is why the term is mostly used derogatory as a criticism of the writer's ability to write and denotes the inability to perform an action to create with continuous logical connections. Examples can be found above all in connection with soaps , which require new motives for action and conflicts with corresponding resolutions at constant intervals over the years and thus inevitably lead to the use of such a deus ex machina .

Individual evidence

  1. Deus ex Machina at Duden Online.
  2. ^ Gero von Wilpert: Subject dictionary of literature . First published in 1955, 8th exp. Edition Stuttgart: Kröner. 2001, pp. 160f, ISBN 3-520-23108-5
  3. ^ Sophocles, Philoctetes 1409
  4. de arte poetica 191 f.
  5. Anton Fuxjäger: Lernbehelf for course Film and Television Analysis: Introduction to the basic terminology . Updated new edition for the summer semester 2007. Vienna, 2004, p. 38


  • Karl Richard Fösel: The deus ex machina in comedy. Palm & Enke, Erlangen, 1975 ( Erlanger Studies 10, ISSN  0179-1710 ).
  • Walter Nicolai : Euripides' dramas with a saving deus ex machina . University Press Carl Winter, Heidelberg, 1990, ISBN 3-533-04255-3 .
  • Gero von Wilpert : Deus ex machina . In: Subject dictionary of literature (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 231). 8th, improved and enlarged edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-520-23108-5 , pp. 160f.
  • Andreas Spira : Studies on the Deus ex machina with Sophocles and Euripides . Kallmünz: Lassleben. 1960, 167 pp.
  • Wieland Schmidt: The Deus ex Machina at Euripides . 1963, 231 pp.