A mechane (play /ˈmɛkən/; Greek: μηχανή, mēkhanē) or machine was a crane used in Greek theatre, especially in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. Made of wooden beams and pulley systems, the device was used to lift an actor into the air, usually representing flight. This stage machine was particularly used to bring gods onto the stage from above,[1] hence the Latin term deus ex machina ("god out of the machine"). Euripides' use of the mechane in Medea (431 BC) is a notable use of the machine for a non-divine character. It was also often used by Aeschylus.

Used in Ancient Rome

Stage machines were also used in ancient Rome, e.g. during the sometimes highly dramatic performances at funerals. For Julius Caesar's funeral service Appian reports a mechane that was used to present a blood-stained wax effigy of the deceased dictator to the funeral crowd. The mechane was used to turn the body in all directions.[2] Geoffrey Sumi proposes that the use of the mechane "hinted at Caesar's divinity".[3] This is highly unlikely because Appian doesn't describe the mechane as a genuine deus-ex-machina device. Furthermore Caesar's apotheosis wasn't legally conducted until 42 BC and Caesar had only been worshipped unofficially as divus during his lifetime. First and foremost Marcus Antonius attempted to arouse the masses as a means to strengthen Caesar's esteem as well as his own political power.[4]

Religious significance

In Christian liturgy the mechane has also been identified with the cross. Ignatius calls the cross the "theatre mechane" of Jesus Christ.[5]


  1. ^ Plato Crat. 425d; Clit. 407a
  2. ^ App. B.C. 2.147. τὸ μὲν γὰρ σῶμα, ὡς ὕπτιον ἐπὶ λέχους, οὐχ ἑωρᾶτο. τὸ δὲ ἀνδρείκελον ἐκ μηχανῆς ἐπεστρέφετο πάντῃ. Suetonius only reports a tropaeum to which the effigy (simulacrum) was affixed. (Jul. 84)
  3. ^ Geoffrey S. Sumi: Ceremony and Power — Performing Politics in Rome between Republic and Empire (Ann Arbor 2005. 107–109, chapter Caesar ex machina). ISBN 978-0-472-11517-4
  4. ^ The fact that Caesar's resurrectio as god happened later during the funeral as he was cremated, and that it spawned the early Caesarian cult by the Pseudo-Marius, can't explaikn Antonius' intentions for using a mechane during the funeral.
  5. ^ Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to the Ephesians IX, I. ἀναφερόμενοι εἰς τὰ ὕψη διὰ τῆς μηχανῆς Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὅς ἐστιν σταυρός.

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