Deus ex machina

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Deus ex machina is a Latin phrase that is most often used to discuss literature. While the term dates from around 1690, the idea is much older. We’ll discuss the meaning of the phrase deus ex machina, its origins, and look at some examples of the term’s use..

Deus ex machina describes an event that occurs unexpectedly in order to intervene in a seemingly hopeless situation. Most often, deus ex machina is used to describe a plot device that comes out of nowhere in order to move the story along or to provide a happy ending. An example of deus ex machina occurs in the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. At the climax of the story, it is revealed that Rose is in fact Oliver’s aunt, paving the way for her happy marriage to her longtime love and allowing Oliver to take up residence with Mr. Brownlow. The use of the deus ex machina is generally frowned upon, as implausible twists and plot points with no foreshadowing are unsatisfying to the reader. However, many popular stories, movies and plays have successfully employed deus ex machina.

The phrase deus ex machina is a Latin translation of the Greek phrase theos ek mēkhanēs, both the Latin and Greek phrases literally mean god from the machine. The term was meant quite literally in Ancient Greece, as it described the entrance of actors playing gods through the use of a crane. This appearance of “gods” often occurred in order to wrap up the drama’s plot. Today, deus ex machina is a figurative phrase that describes a capricious plot point that moves a plot along or wraps up a story. The plural form is dei ex machina.


Musicians, dramatists, and visual artists have long employed technology in creative ways – from the deus ex machina of Greek playwrights to the electronica of Brian Eno and other musicians. (Christian Science Monitor)

But quicker than you can say “deus ex machina,” a dinghy drifts toward the beach with a dead man and a howling newborn inside it. (The Hollywood Reporter)

But, while the fantasy of deus ex machina may feel good, it will not solve any problems. (The Korea Herald)