Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Almost the Same

Primo Levi (1919-1987), The Periodic Table, tr. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1984), p. 60:
I thought of another moral, more down to earth and concrete, and I believe that every militant chemist can confirm it: that one must distrust the almost-the-same (sodium is almost the same as potassium, but with sodium nothing would have happened), the practically identical, the approximate, the or-even, all surrogates, and all patchwork. The differences can be small, but they can lead to radically different consequences, like a railroad's switch points; the chemist's trade consists in good part in being aware of these differences, knowing them close up, and foreseeing their effects. And not only the chemist's trade.

Io pensavo ad un'altra morale, piú terrena e concreta, e credo che ogni chimico militante la potrà confermare: che occorre diffidare del quasiuguale (il sodio è quasi uguale al potassio: ma col sodio non sarebbe successo nulla), del praticamente identico, del pressapoco, dell'oppure, di tutti i surrogati e di tutti i rappezzi. Le differenze possono essere piccole, ma portare a conseguenze radicalmente diverse, come gli aghi degli scambi; il mestiere del chimico consiste in buona parte nel guardarsi da queste differenze, nel conoscerle da vicino, nel prevederne gli effetti. Non solo il mestiere del chimico.


In the Blood

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), "The Church that was at Antioch," Limits and Renewals (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1932), pp. 89-114 (at 90):
'It's in the blood. The same with men as horses.'
Charles Darwin (1809-1882), The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 2nd rev. ed. (London: John Murray, 1874), p. 617:
Man scans with scrupulous care the character of his horses, cattle, and dogs before he matches them, but when it comes to his own marriage he rarely, or never, takes any such care.

Monday, January 27, 2020


Ways of Looking at Things

Ben Edwin Perry (1892-1968), "The Early Greek Capacity for Viewing Things Separately," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 68 (1937) 403-427 (at 403):
If modern habits of mind were the same as those of the pre-Socratic Greeks, we should not often err in the interpretation of their literature and thought; but since the psychological differences between them and us are considerable, it frequently happens that modern critics, too much influenced by their own patterns of thought, either find something in early Greek literature that is not there, or else are puzzled and even disappointed by not finding there something which they feel ought to be there. Since this is so, it behooves us as interpreters to keep in view at all times, and in many different connections, those particular characteristics of the early Greek mind which can be recognized as such, and which stand in contrast to modern ways of thinking.
Id. (at 425):
In the matter of drawing inferences and of associating or not associating one idea or image with another, there are, as it seems to me, three distinct ways of looking at things, the first two of which, in the order below mentioned, are especially characteristic of the Greek mind in the fifth century and earlier: 1. Two or more things (or ideas) that might be logically or otherwise connected with each other are each viewed separately, and the beholder or narrator is aware of only one at a time—parataxis in various forms. 2. Two things are viewed in juxtaposition or contrast, each of which in some way denies the other, while the onlooker, though intellectually pleased or even deeply moved by the spectacle, nevertheless remains aloof and impartial in his attitude, being affected for the time being far more by the objective reality of things (θεωρία) than by any sympathy, however natural, for one of the two things in conflict—irony, the antithetic style, the intellectual detachment of Thucydides. 3. The spectator, turned partisan, judges one of two things in terms of the other, or with reference to a preconceived system or sentiment, or by pure logic— philosophy instead of nature as the guide to truth.


Replacement of Liberal Arts by STEM Subjects

Edward Littleton (1698-1733), "A Letter from Cambridge to a young Gentleman at Eton School," lines 35-56, in A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands, Vol. VI. (London: Printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley, 1763), pp. 290-294 (at 291-292):
No more majestic Virgil's heights,        35
Nor tow'ring Milton's loftier flights,
Nor courtly Flaccus's rebukes,
Who banters vice with friendly jokes,
Nor Congreve's life, nor Cowley's fire,
Nor all the beauties that conspire        40
To place the greenest bays upon
Th' immortal brows of Addison;
Prior's inimitable ease,
Nor Pope's harmonious numbers please;
Homer indeed (for critics shew it)        45
Was both philosopher, and poet,
But tedious philosophic chapters
Quite stifle my poetic raptures,
And I to Phoebus bade adieu
When first I took my leave of you.        50

Now algebra, geometry,
Arithmetic, astronomy,
Optics, chronology, and statics,
All tiresome parts of mathematics;
With twenty harder names than these        55
Disturb my brain, and break my peace.



Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), "In the Interests of the Brethren," Debits and Credits (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1926), pp. 57-82 (at 61):
'All Ritual is fortifying. Ritual's a natural necessity for mankind. The more things are upset, the more they fly to it. I abhor slovenly Ritual anywhere.'

Sunday, January 26, 2020


Bookish Ambition

Henry Peacham (c. 1576-c. 1643), The Compleat Gentleman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), p. 54 (from Chapter VI):
Affect not as some doe, that bookish Ambition, to be stored with bookes and have well furnished Libraries, yet keepe their heads empty of knowledge: to desire to have many bookes, and never to use them, is like a child that will have a candle burning by him, all the while he is sleeping.


The Siege of Lisbon

Extract from De Expugnatione Lyxboniensi (On the Siege of Lisbon) (1147), in James A. Brundage, The Crusades. A Documentary Survey (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1962) p. 101:
While we kept watch, meanwhile, under their walls through the days and nights, they [the Moorish defenders of Lisbon] heaped derision and many insults upon us. They considered us worthy of a thousand deaths, especially since they thought that we spurned our own things as vile and lusted after others' goods as precious. Nor did they recall doing us any injury, save that if they had anything of the best quality in their possession we might consider them unworthy of having it and judge it worthy of our possession. They taunted us with the many children who were going to be born at home while we were gone and said that our wives would not be anxious about our deaths, since home was well supplied with little bastards. They promised that any of us who survived would go home miserable and poverty-stricken and they mocked us and gnashed their teeth at us. They also continuously attacked Blessed Mary, the mother of God, with insults and with vile and abusive words, which infuriated us. They said that we venerated the son of a poor woman with a worship equal to that due to God, for we held that he was a God and the Son of God, when it is apparent that there is only one God who began all things that have begun and that he has no one coeval with him and no partaker in his divinity.... They attacked us with these and similar calumnies. They showed to us, moreover, with much derision the symbol of the cross. They spat upon it and wiped the feces from their posteriors with it. At last they urinated on it, as on some despicable thing, and threw our cross at us….
De Expugnatione Lyxboniensi, f.12v:
Dum interim per dies et noctes excubaremus sub eorum muris, derisiones atque improperia multa nobis ingerebant, mille nos mortibus dignos judicantes, quippe qui nostra fastidientes quasi vilia, aliena quasi pretiosa concupisceremus, nec aliam se nobis injuriam fecisse commemorant, nisi quod nos si quid optimi penes eos haberetur, possessione nostra dignum aestimaremus, ipsosque indignos habendi judicaremus, prolemque domi nascituram multiplicem nobis absentibus improperabant, nec ob id de obitu nostro curae uxoribus nostris fore, satis cum sibi domi spuria suppeteret progenies. Sed et si qui ex nobis superforent, miseros et inopes repatriandum promittebant, et subsannantes dentibus in nobis fremebant. Conviciis insuper et verbis contumeliosis et probris Beatam Mariam matrem Domini incessanter afficiebant, indignantes nobis, quod filium paupris muleieris tanto quasi Deum veneraremur obsequio, Ipsum dicentes Deum Deique filium, cum unum Deum solum a quo omnia quae initia habent coepta sunt, constet esse, nec aliquem coaevum et divinitatis Suae habere participem; […] Haec et his similia adversum nos calumniantes obtrectabant, crucis insuper signum cum magna irrisione ostentare nostris, atque in illam exspuentes, foeditatis suae posteriora extergebant ex illa; sicque demum micturientes in illam quasi opprobrium quoddam, crucem nostram nobis projiciunt… .
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who also sends this photograph of Lisbon's Praça do Comercio, taken minutes ago:



Roger Scruton (1944-2020), I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009; rpt. London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 176-178:
Plato. There is a dialogue of Plato to suit every wine. A fine claret will take you at a leisurely pace through The Republic, while with the Phaedrus a light rosé would be more appropriate, and only a bone-dry Manzanilla would do justice to the Philebus. The Laws would benefit from a robust Burgundy, giving courage and permission to the inevitable desire to skip. When it comes to the sublime Symposium, by contrast, something light and semi-sweet will help you to capture some of the gaiety of the company, and to drink to each of the participants as they rise to speak.


Aristotle. Readers of the Metaphysics will understand when I say that plain water is the only conceivable accompaniment. To swallow the driest book ever written you need plenty of liquid, and an attitude of Spartan detachment as you fight down the words. Before moving on to the Prior Analytics a ginger biscuit might be suitable. Only with the Nicomachean Ethics do things lighten up a bit, and here, because the argument is absolutely vital to the concept of virtuous drinking as I have been advancing it, I would recommend a celebratory glass or two. My best experience of the Ethics came, in fact, with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the Beringer Estate in California — one of those original Californian wineries that have been a by-word for craftsmanship both before and after Prohibition.

Cicero. Not exactly a philosopher, though a jolly good bloke, who had much to say about the life of virtue, and whose creative ability to make himself hated ought to serve as an example to us all. His careful sentences, with their burden of dignified thought, are prime claret material, and should be approached after dinner, with a glass or two of Pauillac, where the poet Ausonius once had a villa. The great Ch. Lynch-Bages 1959 could not be better used, by anyone fortunate enough to have a bottle remaining. But while on the subject of Ausonius, how about the equally great 1959 from Ch. Ausone?


Professor P.

Primo Levi (1919-1987), The Periodic Table, tr. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1984), pp. 30-31:
I liked P. I liked the sober rigor of his classes; I was amused by the disdainful ostentation with which at the exams he exhibited, instead of the prescribed Fascist shirt, a comic black bib no bigger than the palm of a hand, which at each of his brusque movements would pop out between his jacket's lapels. I valued his two textbooks, clear to the point of obsession, concise, saturated with his surly contempt for humanity in general and for lazy and foolish students in particular: for all students were, by definition, lazy and foolish; anyone who by rare good luck managed to prove that he was not became his peer and was honored by a laconic and precious sentence of praise.

A me P. era simpatico. Mi piaceva il rigore sobrio delle sue lezioni; mi divertiva la sdegnosa ostentazione con cui esibiva agli esami, in luogo della camicia fascista prescritta, un buffo bavaglino nero, grande un palmo, che ad ognuno dei suoi movimenti bruschi gli usciva fuori dei risvolti della giacca. Apprezzavo i suoi due testi, chiari fino all'ossessione, stringati, pregni del suo arcigno disprezzo per l'umanità in generale e per gli studenti pigri e sciocchi in particolare: perché tutti gli studenti, per definizione, erano pigri e sciocchi; chi, per somma ventura, riusciva a dimostrargli di non esserlo, diventava un suo pari, e veniva onorato con una laconica e preziosa frase d'encomio.
Professor P. was Giacomo Ponzio (1870-1945).

Saturday, January 25, 2020


How Long Does it Take to Make a Mummy?

W. Jackson Bate (1918-1999), "The Crisis in English Studies," Harvard Magazine 85.1 (September-October 1982) 46-53 (at 49):
If you took a Ph.D. here in English as late as the 1930s, you were suddenly shoved — with grammars written in German — into Anglo-Saxon, and Middle Scots, plus Old Norse (Icelandic), Gothic, Old French, and so on. I used to sympathize with the Japanese and Chinese students who had come here to study literature struggling with a German grammar to translate Gothic into English! William Allan Neilson, the famous president of Smith College, had been a professor of English here for years. Forgiveably, he stated that the Egyptians took only five weeks to make a mummy, but the Harvard English Department took five years.


The Proposal of Artembares

Herodotus 9.122 (tr. Robin Waterfield):
[1] This Artayctes, the one who was crucified, was the descendant of Artembares, who was the author of a certain proposal which the Persians passed on to Cyrus for ratification. The proposal went like this:

[2] 'Since Zeus has given sovereignty to the Persians and to you in particular, Cyrus, now that you have done away with Astyages, let's emigrate from the country we currently own, which is small and rugged, and take over somewhere better. There are plenty of countries on our borders, and plenty further away too, any one of which, in our hands, will make us even more remarkable to even more people. This is a perfectly reasonable thing for people with power to do. Will we ever have a better opportunity than now, when we rule over so many peoples and the whole of Asia?'

[3] Cyrus was not impressed with the proposal. He told them to go ahead—but he also advised them to be prepared, in that case, to become subjects instead of rulers, on the grounds that soft lands tend to breed soft men. It is impossible, he said, for one and the same country to produce remarkable crops and good fighting men.

[4] So the Persians admitted the truth of his argument and took their leave. Cyrus' point of view had proved more convincing than their own, and they chose to live in a harsh land and rule rather than to cultivate fertile plains and be others' slaves.

[1] τούτου δὲ Ἀρταΰκτεω τοῦ ἀνακρεμασθέντος προπάτωρ Ἀρτεμβάρης ἐστὶ ὁ Πέρσῃσι ἐξηγησάμενος λόγον τὸν ἐκεῖνοι ὑπολαβόντες Κύρῳ προσήνεικαν λέγοντα τάδε.

[2] "ἐπεὶ Ζεὺς Πέρσῃσι ἡγεμονίην διδοῖ, ἀνδρῶν δὲ σοὶ Κῦρε, κατελὼν Ἀστυάγην, φέρε, γῆν γὰρ ἐκτήμεθα ὀλίγην καὶ ταύτην τρηχέαν, μεταναστάντες ἐκ ταύτης ἄλλην σχῶμεν ἀμείνω. εἰσὶ δὲ πολλαὶ μὲν ἀστυγείτονες πολλαὶ δὲ καὶ ἑκαστέρω, τῶν μίαν σχόντες πλέοσι ἐσόμεθα θωμαστότεροι. οἰκὸς δὲ ἄνδρας ἄρχοντας τοιαῦτα ποιέειν· κότε γὰρ δὴ καὶ παρέξει κάλλιον ἢ ὅτε γε ἀνθρώπων τε πολλῶν ἄρχομεν πάσης τε τῆς Ἀσίης;"

[3] Κῦρος δὲ ταῦτα ἀκούσας καὶ οὐ θωμάσας τὸν λόγον ἐκέλευε ποιέειν ταῦτα, οὕτω δὲ αὐτοῖσι παραίνεε κελεύων παρασκευάζεσθαι ὡς οὐκέτι ἄρξοντας ἀλλ᾽ ἀρξομένους· φιλέειν γὰρ ἐκ τῶν μαλακῶν χώρων μαλακοὺς γίνεσθαι· οὐ γὰρ τι τῆς αὐτῆς γῆς εἶναι καρπόν τε θωμαστὸν φύειν καὶ ἄνδρας ἀγαθοὺς τὰ πολέμια.

[4] ὥστε συγγνόντες Πέρσαι οἴχοντο ἀποστάντες, ἑσσωθέντες τῇ γνώμῃ πρὸς Κύρου, ἄρχειν τε εἵλοντο λυπρὴν οἰκέοντες μᾶλλον ἢ πεδιάδα σπείροντες ἄλλοισι δουλεύειν.
See Nancy Demand, "Herodotus and Metoikesis in the Persian Wars," American Journal of Philology 109.3 (Autumn, 1988) 416-423 (at 419-420).



Primo Levi (1919-1987), The Periodic Table, tr. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1984), p. 24:
What were we able to do with our hands? Nothing, or almost nothing. The women, yes—our mothers and grandmothers had lively, agile hands, they knew how to sew and cook, some even played the piano, painted with watercolors, embroidered, braided their hair. But we, and our fathers?

Our hands were at once coarse and weak, regressive, insensitive: the least trained part of our bodies. Having gone through the first fundamental experiences of play, they had learned to write, and that was all. They knew the convulsive grip around the branches of a tree, which we loved to climb out of a natural desire and also (Enrico and I) out of a groping homage and return to the origins of the species; but they were unfamiliar with the solemn, balanced weight of the hammer, the concentrated power of a blade, too cautiously forbidden us, the wise texture of wood, the similar and diverse pliability of iron, lead, and copper. If man is a maker, we were not men: we knew this and suffered from it.

Friday, January 24, 2020


Obsession with the Past

Peter Green, From Ikaria to the Stars: Classical Mythification, Ancient and Modern (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004), p. 7:
The deep and instinctive conservatism of all but the most progressive Greek intellectual thinking — τιμιώτατον γὰρ τὸ πρεσβύτατον, said Aristotle, "what's oldest is most valuable" (Met. A3, 983b32) — has often elicited comment,7 but its impact on mythic historiography has not, I think, been fully appreciated. This obsession with the past, above all the heroic past, was ubiquitous and intense. To an overwhelming extent, the past and everything it stood for had been better, and it was not only Homer's heroes8 who thought so. Plato, Isocrates, Aristotle all shared the same outlook: when they attacked witnesses to that lost world, it was for misrepresenting it.9

7. Most strikingly by Van Groningen 1953, 1–12, who surveys our sources from Homer to Aristotle. For the status quo as the economic ideal, cf. A.E. Samuel, From Athens to Alexandria: Hellenism and Social Goals in Ptolemaic Egypt (Louvain, 1983), 123, and Green 1993, 363–67, 374–75.

8. E.g., Il. 1.260–61; 5.302, 447; Od. 8.223.

9. Plat. Phileb. 16C: Socrates speaks of οἱ μὲν παλαιοί, κρείττονες ἡμῶν καὶ ἐγγυτέρω θεῶν οἰκοῦντες. Isocrates, as Van Groningen comments (1953, 7), "places everything which he thinks desirable in the past; the Athens of former days was exemplary; only imitations of the forefathers can bring real prosperity ... with him 'the excellency of the fathers' becomes a synonym of the fathers themselves." For ἡ τῶν προγόνων ἀρετῆ, see Isocr. 12.5, 15.76. For the spirit of emulating the past, cf. 5.113–14; 6.12–13, 98; 7.84; 8.93; 12.137; 15.114; and in general, Orat. 4 and 7. Aristotle believed that "antiquity appears to be a near approach to what is by nature," Rhet. 2.9.9, 1387a16 (trans. Van Groningen).
For ἡ τῶν προγόνων ἀρετῆ read ἡ τῶν προγόνων ἀρετή.

Van Groningen is B.A. Van Groningen, In the Grip of the Past: Essay on an Aspect of Greek Thought (Leiden: Brill, 1953 = Philosophia Antiqua, VI), unavailable to me.



A Short But Distinguished Life

https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/fellows/bertil-axelson-FBA (screen capture January 24, 2020):


Learning One Thing Well

Menander, fragment 695 Kassel and Austin (tr. Francis G. Allinson):
It is far better to have come to know one thing thoroughly than to be superficially dressed up with many.

πολὺ κρεῖττόν ἐστιν ἓν καλῶς μεμαθηκέναι
ἢ πολλὰ φαύλως περιβεβλῆσθαι πράγματα.
Related post: Non Multa Sed Multum.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


Juvenal's Tenth Satire

Byron, letter to Francis Hodgson (September 9, 1811), in 'Famous in my time': Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Leslie A. Marchand, Vol. 2: 1810-1812 (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1973), p. 105, with the editor's note:
I have been a good deal in your company lately, for I have been reading Juvenal & Lady Jane &ca.1 for the first time since my return.—The 10th Sat[ir]e has always been my favourite as I suppose indeed of every body's, it is the finest recipe for making one miserable with this life, & content to walk out of it, in any language.—I should think it might be redde with great effect to a man dying without much pain, in preference to all the stuff that ever was said or sung in churches.

1 Hodgson had published a translation of Juvenal in 1807, and Lady Jane Grey, a Tale; and Other Poems in 1809.


It's Time

Pliny, Letters 1.3.3 (to Caninius Rufus; tr. Betty Radice):
But isn't it really time you handed over those tiresome petty duties to someone else and shut yourself up with your books in the peace and comfort of your retreat? This is what should be both business and pleasure, work and recreation, and should occupy your thoughts awake and asleep!

quin tu (tempus enim) humiles et sordidas curas aliis mandas, et ipse te in alto isto pinguique secessu studiis adseris? hoc sit negotium tuum, hoc otium, hic labor, haec quies; in his vigilia, in his etiam somnus reponatur!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


Bloodless Offerings

Calpurnius Siculus 2.64-67 (tr. J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff):
I too have been wont to offer first-fruits to the gods who protect my apple-orchard and to mould for Priapus cakes of sacrifice. Dripping combs of trickling honey I present — nor think they shall be less acceptable to heaven than a goat's blood staining the altar.

non quoque pomiferi laribus consuevimus horti
mittere primitias et fingere liba Priapo,
rorantesque favos damus et liquentia mella;
nec fore grata minus, quam si caper imbuat aras.
Cyril Bailey, Phases in the Religion of Ancient Rome (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1932 = Sather Classical Lectures, 10), pp. 77-78 (note omitted):
The offerings in the household cult and in the majority of the sacrificia in the fields were in the early days bloodless. They consisted mostly in cereals, and particularly in spelt (far) — the staple crop before wheat was introduced. Often this was made into meal (puls) or cakes (strues, fertum, liba) or, when salt was added, it became the mola salsa, the salt meal, so famous in Roman ritual. These simple offerings were felt to be all that the god needed, and Horace is speaking in the spirit of the old religion, when he says that "if a pure hand has touched the altar, it will not be more persuasive with a rich victim than with the gift of spelt and the little cake leaping in the flame."


Joy, and Plenty, and Contentment

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, No. 36 (Saturday, July 21, 1750):
There is scarcely any species of poetry that has allured more readers, or excited more writers, than the pastoral. It is generally pleasing, because it entertains the mind with representations of scenes familiar to almost every imagination, and of which all can equally judge whether they are well described. It exhibits a life, to which we have been accustomed to associate peace, and leisure, and innocence: and therefore we readily set open the heart for the admission of its images, which contribute to drive away cares and perturbations, and suffer ourselves, without resistance, to be transported to Elysian regions, where we are to meet with nothing but joy, and plenty, and contentment; where every gale whispers pleasure, and every shade promises repose.
Our inclination to stillness and tranquillity is seldom much lessened by long knowledge of the busy and tumultuary part of the world. In childhood we turn our thoughts to the country, as to the region of pleasure; we recur to it in old age as a port of rest, and perhaps with that secondary and adventitious gladness, which every man feels on reviewing those places, or recollecting those occurrences, that contributed to his youthful enjoyments, and bring him back to the prime of life, when the world was gay with the bloom of novelty, when mirth wantoned at his side, and hope sparkled before him.


Motive for Martyrdom?

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XVI:
The assurance of a lasting reputation on earth, a motive so congenial to the vanity of human nature, often served to animate the courage of the martyrs.


Was the World Created for Man?

The Book of Lieh-tzu. A Classic of the Tao translated by A.C. Graham (1960; rpt. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), pp. 178-179:
T'ien of Ch'i was going on a journey; he sacrificed in his courtyard to the god of the roads, and banqueted a thousand guests. Someone was serving fish and geese at the seat of honour. T'ien looked at them; then he sighed and said:

How generous heaven is to mankind! It grows the five grains and breeds the fish and birds for the use of man.

All the guests answered like his echo. But a twelve-year-old boy of the Pao family, who had a seat among the guests, came forward and said:

It is not as your lordship says. The myriad things between heaven and earth, born in the same way that we are, do not differ from us in kind. One kind is no nobler than another; it is simply that the stronger and cleverer rule the weaker and sillier. Things take it in turns to eat each other, but they are not bred for each other's sake. Men take the things which are edible and eat them, but how can it be claimed that heaven bred them originally for the sake of man? Besides, mosquitoes and gnats bite our skin, tigers and wolves eat our flesh; did heaven originally breed man for the sake of mosquitoes and gnats, and his flesh for the sake of tigers and wolves?


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