Latin Quotes, Sayings, Tattoos, Phrases & Mottos

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Deus ex machina

Thursday, July 31, 2008, 17:16 - Best Latin Quotes, Words of Wisdom, Proverbs and Sayings
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Deus ex machina
God from a machine

"A Literary Manual of Foreign Quotations, Ancient and Modern" by John Devoe Belton interprets the phrase in this fashion: "A god out of a machine. This expression indicates the intervention of a person who solves a difficulty or hastens the denouement at a critical juncture."

This is perhaps one of the most famous Latin phrases employed as a term of literary criticism. Funny thing about it is that the exact phrase "deus ex machina" cannot be found in a single work of either Classical or Medieval Latin. Instead, the source of the expression is Greek: ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός. This most certainly was a term used by Greek theorists (including Plato and Aristotle). Apparently, Renaissance Latin translations of their works made such an impression that the term was retained henceforth. Oddly enough, the Latin term is now sometimes used in English translations of Greek authors (the quote is once again from Belton):

In Plato's Cratylus, 425, Socrates says (Jowett's translation): "That objects should be limited, and find an expression in letters and syllables, may appear ridiculous, Hermogenes, but this cannot be helped there is no better principle to which we can look for the truth of first names. Deprived of this, we must have recourse to a Deus ex machina, like the tragic poets, who have their gods suspended in the air; and we must get out of the difficulty in their fashion by saying that the gods gave the first names, and therefore they are right."

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