Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between

By Jeremy Stolow | Go to book overview
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Introduction
Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between

Jeremy Stolow

In ancient Greek tragedy it was not uncommon to resolve a particular dramatic crisis with the sudden intervention of a god, a strategy with which the playwright Euripides had a particular affinity. At the appointed moment during the play performers would utilize a trapdoor in the floor of the stage or employ a mēchanê, a sort of crane with a pulley attached to it, to lower, raise, or exhibit motionless in midair a statue or an actor dressed as a deity, often the god Zeus. Such a miraculous apparition would interrupt the dramatic events taking place on stage, typically for the purpose of rescuing characters from an impending doom.1 But this dramaturgical convention, apò mēchanês theós (“the god out of the machine”), was denigrated by a long line of critics, starting with Aristotle, who lamented playwrights’ overreliance on such a cheap and “merely mechanical” resolution of dramatic tensions.2 In this tradition the convention of apò mēchanês theós and its Latin calque, deus ex machina, came to refer to any formulaic use of a plot device in which a conveniently perfect solution emerges for an otherwise inextricable problem in the story through the insertion of an entirely unexpected character, object, or event. Underlying the critics’ longstanding

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