deus ex machina

deus ex machina

A Latin phrase that translates as “god out of a machine.” In ancient Greek drama, plays often ended with one of the gods being lowered onto the stage in a basket. The god would then step out of the basket and end the drama by pronouncing judgment on the characters. This kind of ending did not seem strange to the ancient Greeks, who believed that the gods did in fact control everything and were responsible for the workings of the world.

However, today we expect action to arise from the characters and plot of a literary work. The phrase deus ex machina has therefore come to mean any contrived ending that introduces a person or a fact that the reader hasn’t previously known about to explain some aspect of the work.


© 2011 by Mary Daniels Brown


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