God from the Machine

Euripides gets a bad wrap.

Critics have been busting his chops since at least 431 BC, when he debuted his play Medea. He wraps up the conflicts in his plays by having an actor lowered down to the stage via crane or lever, portraying one of the many gods in the ancient Greek pantheon. The god comes down (or, if it’s Hades, comes up through a trap door) and waves away all of the characters’ problems and angst and confusion with a single pronouncement.

“It is I, Athena! Allow me to explain everything and tie up all loose ends!”

Sophocles did this bullshit too.

Lowering a god to the stage to magically save the day is an insult to the audience’s intelligence. But when most of the audience isn’t all that intelligent to begin with, the playwright gets away with it. Most people just want to leave the theater smiling.

Imagine if Gilligan’s Island had ended with Poseidon pushing a steamship to the beach to rescue the castaways, as opposed to the way I think it ended, with the Skipper eating everyone, picking their carcasses clean as he slowly goes insane from the loneliness.

But upon further inspection of the works of Euripides, it becomes apparent that, with one or two exceptions, most of his plots were not necessarily saved by these deus ex machina (literally, God from the Machine) endings. The plots were wound up already and then the god merely shows up to provide a coda of sorts. The more modern explanation for the way the ancient Greeks employed this device is to forgive them their need to tie the dramatic world into the general enthusiasm for religion and the spiritual world. The Greeks loved and revered their gods so including them in the entertainment of the day was a way of satisfying the audience as opposed to merely fixing a lazy third act.

The coronavirus vaccine is the deus ex machina everyone knows is waiting in the wings. And in this case, it is a resolution. We don’t know yet if it arrives at Dow 27,000 or Dow 24,000 but we do know that it resolves the central conflict within the play that is our current economic situation. We know that it changes the course of everything that matters. There are entire industries and millions (MILLIONS) of businesses that do not recover until this god is sprung from the rafters and descends upon the stage.

Trillions of dollars worth of commerce and investment and trade around the world depend upon this plot device. How many jobs and businesses can survive until we get to this scene? How much of the audience can remain on its feet as we wait, and wait, and wait some more? How many down-1,000 Dow point days can it endure?

Apollo, we await the contrivance of your entry.


This content, which contains security-related opinions and/or information, is provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in any manner as professional advice, or an endorsement of any practices, products or services. There can be no guarantees or assurances that the views expressed here will be applicable for any particular facts or circumstances, and should not be relied upon in any manner. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment.

The commentary in this “post” (including any related blog, podcasts, videos, and social media) reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints, and analyses of the Ritholtz Wealth Management employees providing such comments, and should not be regarded the views of Ritholtz Wealth Management LLC. or its respective affiliates or as a description of advisory services provided by Ritholtz Wealth Management or performance returns of any Ritholtz Wealth Management Investments client.

References to any securities or digital assets, or performance data, are for illustrative purposes only and do not constitute an investment recommendation or offer to provide investment advisory services. Charts and graphs provided within are for informational purposes solely and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Past performance is not indicative of future results. The content speaks only as of the date indicated. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects, and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others.

Wealthcast Media, an affiliate of Ritholtz Wealth Management, receives payment from various entities for advertisements in affiliated podcasts, blogs and emails. Inclusion of such advertisements does not constitute or imply endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation thereof, or any affiliation therewith, by the Content Creator or by Ritholtz Wealth Management or any of its employees. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. For additional advertisement disclaimers see here: https://www.ritholtzwealth.com/advertising-disclaimers

Please see disclosures here.

What's been said:

Discussions found on the web
  1. Its Outlet commented on Oct 31

    How many jobs and businesses can survive until we get to this scene?