Friday, August 08, 2014

"Deus Ex Machina" and an Unlikely Sequence of Events

Simple Pleasures Tee
Linda and I returned home today from three days of speaking in Edison, New Jersey and four days of birthday and anniversary R&R in beautiful Cape May, New Jersey. In Cape May we mostly sat on the beach watching the off-shore hurricane-inspired waves roaring into the Atlantic coastline.

We also walked and looked and did a little shopping (especially for Linda's birthday) in Cape May's cool downtown. And I bought a Deus Ex Machina t-shirt. (Not the one pictured above.)

In 1971 I heard of the "deus ex machina" from my philosophy professor Michael Gelven. Gelven was talking about ancient Greek tragedy, and the play by Aristophanes called "The Clouds." In it Aristophanes uses an actor on a mechanical hook to rescue one of the actors and lift him up into the clouds. This stage-prop mechanical hook was referred to as a "deus ex machina," a "machine God." Aristophanes used the prop, I recall, to mock the finite Greek gods of his time and, in particular, Socrates. When I bought the t-shirt I told the salesperson this story.

This morning Linda and I drove from South New Jersey to Newark International to fly back to Detroit. We were sitting in the terminal waiting to board the plane when a man came and sat in the seat next to me. He opened his backpack and pulled out a book. I'm usually interested in what other people are reading. The book was The Plays of Aristophanes. I thought, "are you kidding me?" What are the odds of these events coming together! I have never in my life seen any person with a copy of Aristophanes (except Dr. Gelven). I asked him, "Are you reading The Clouds?"

"I'm about to," he said.

I asked, "Have you heard of 'deus ex machina?' 


So I explained it.

We got on the plane. This man, named Andrew, was seated next to me again. As we ascended into the clouds Andrew was reading The Clouds, and I was wondering what all this might mean, if anything.

God comes to my rescue.