The Ancient City

Hesper

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Excerpts from The Ancient City by Fustel de Coulanges

From the Back:

In The Ancient City, Fustel argues that primitive religion constituted the foundation of all civic life. Developing his comparisons between beliefs and laws, Fustel covers such topics as rites and festivals; marriage and the family; divorce, death and burial; and political and legal structures. "Religion," the author states, "constituted the Greek and Roman family, established marriage and paternal authority, fixed the order of relationship, and consecrated the right of property, and the right of inheritance. This same religion, after having enlarged and extended the family, formed a still larger association, the city, and reigned in that as it had reigned in the family. From it came all the institutions, as well as all the private law, of the ancient."
By now everyone has heard the phrase "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual" and has probably become nauseated by it. Well ever since reading Comets and the Horns of Moses I've put more thought into that, especially since "religious" centers around the worship of some external gods (most probably originating as giant, screaming, murderous comets) while the spiritual part seems to echo that ancient science we find traces of in Gurdjieff, the Stoics, and of course the Cassiopaeans. Though this book covers so much more, after reading The Ancient City we have a great glimpse into the past and what the minds of humanity, obviously corrupted, might have once considered truly "god-like". I'll post more from the rest of the book as I find time.

Selections from Chapter 1 to Chapter 3

Down to the latest times in the history of Greece and Rome we find the common people clinging to thoughts and usages which certainly dated from a very distant past, and which enable us to discover what notions man entertained at first regarding his own nature, his soul, and the mystery of death.
Go back as far as we may in the history of the Indo-European race, of which the Greeks and Italians are branches, and we do not find that this race has ever thought that after this short life all was finished for man. The most ancient generations, long before there were philosophers, believed in a second existence after the present. They looked upon death not as a dissolution of our being, but simply as a change in life.

But in what place, and in what manner, was this second existence passed? Did they believe that the immortal spirit, once escaped from a body, went to animate another? No; the doctrine of metempsychosis was never able to take root in the minds of the Greco-Italians; not was it the most ancient belief of the Aryas of the East; since the hymns of the Vedas teach another doctrine. Did they believe that the spirit ascended towards the sky, towards the region of light? Not at all; the thought that departed souls entered a celestial home is relatively recent in the West; we find it expressed for the first time by the poet Phocylides. The celestial abode was never regarded as anything more than the recompense of a few great men, and of the benefactors of mankind. According to the oldest belief of the Italians and Greeks, the soul did not go into a foreign world to pass its second existence; it remained near men, and continued to live under ground...It was a custom, at the close of a funeral ceremony, to call the soul of the deceased three times by the name he had been borne. They wished that he might live happy under ground.

From this primitive belief came the necessity of burial. In order that the soul might be confined to this subterranean abode, which was suited to its second life, it was necessary that the body to which it remained attached should be covered with earth. The soul that had no tomb had no dwelling-place. It was a wandering spirit...From this came the belief in ghosts.

We can see in ancient writers how man was tormented by the fear that after his death the rites would not be observed for him. It was a source of constant inquietude. Men feared death less than the privation of burial; for rest and eternal happiness were at stake. We ought not be too much surprised at seeing the Athenians put generals to death, who, after a naval victory, had neglected to bury the dead. These generals, disciples of philosophers, distinguished clearly between the soul and the body, and as they did not believe that the fate of the one was connected with the fate of the other, it appeared to them of very little consequence whether a body was decomposed in the earth or in the water. Therefore they did not brave the tempest for the vain formality of collecting and burying their dead. But the multitude, who, even at Athens, still clung to the ancient doctrines, accused these generals of impiety, and had them put to death. By their victory they had saved Athens; but by their impiety they had lost thousands of souls.

The being who lived under ground was not sufficiently free from human frailties to have no need of food; and, therefore, on certain days of the year, a meal was carried to every tomb...The food that the family brought was really for the dead - exclusively for him.
The dead were held to be sacred beings...For them they had all the veneration that man can have for the divinity whom he loves or fears. In their thoughts the dead were gods.

This sort of apotheosis was not the privilege of great men; no distinction was made among the dead. Cicero says, "Our ancestors desired that the men who had quitted this life should be counted in the number of the gods." It was not necessary to have even been a virtuous man: the wicked man, as well as the good man, became a god; but he retained in the second life all the bad inclinations which had tormented him in the first.

We find this worship of the dead among the Hellenes, among the Latins, among the Sabines, among the Etruscans; we also find it among the Aryas of India. Mention of it is made in the hymns of the Reg-Veda...the Hindu, like the Greek, regarded the dead as divine beings, who enjoyed a happy existence; but their happiness depended on the condition that the offerings made by the living should be ccarried to them regularly. If the sraddha for a dead person was not offered regularly, his soul left its peaceful dwelling, and became a wandering spirit, who tormented the living; so that, if the dead were really gods, this was only whilst the living honored them with their worship...The Greeks and Romans had exactly the same belief.

The Sacred Fire

In the house of every Greek and roman was an altar; on this altar there had always to be a small quantity of ashes, and a few lighted coals. It was a sacred obligation for the master of every house to keep the fire up night and day. Woe to the house where it was extinguished.

The fire was something divine; they adored it, and offered it real worship...The sacred fire was the Providence of the family. The worship was very simple. The first rule was, that there should always be upon the altar a few live coals; for if this fire was extinguished a god ceased to exist. At certain moments of the day they placed upon the fire dry herbs and wood; then the god manifested himself in a bright flame....The god received [all] offerings, and devoured them; radiant with satisfaction, he rose above the altar, and lighted up the worshiper with his brightness. Then was the moment to invoke him; and the hymn of prayer went out from the heart of man.

Especially were the meals of the family religious acts. The god presided there. He had cooked the bread, and prepared the food.

It is a strong proof of the antiquity of this belief, and of these practices, to find them at the same time among men on the shore of the Mediterranean and among those of the peninsula of India...Assuredly the Greeks did not borrow this religion from the Hindus, nor the Hindus from the Greeks. But the Greeks, the Italians, and the Hindus belonged to the same race; their ancestors, in a very distant past, lived together in Central Asia...When the tribes separated, they carried this worship with them.

Every prayer to any god whatever must commence and end with a prayer to the fire...Let us remark, in the first place, that this fire, which was kept burning upon the hearth, was not, in the thoughts of men, the fire of material nature...It is a pure fire, which can be produced only by the aid of certain rites, and can be kept up only with certain kinds of wood. It is a chaste fire; the union of the sexes must be removed far from its presence...Thus the hearth-fire is a sort of a moral being; it shines, and warms, and cooks the sacred food; but at the same time it thinks, and has a conscience; it knows men's duties, and sees that they are fulfilled...It is truly the god of human nature.

This brings us back to the worship of the dead. Both are of the same antiquity. They were so closely associated that the belief of the ancients made but on religion of both. Heath-fire demons, heroes, Lares (souls of the dead), all were confounded.

It is certain that the oldest generations of the race from which the Greeks and Romans sprang worshiped both the dead and the hearth-fire - an ancient religion that did not find its gods in physical nature, but in man himself, and that has for its object the adoration of the invisible being which is in us, the moral and thinking power which animate and governs our bodies.
I will continue to post more from the book as I find the time, the book is full of breathtaking insights.
 

mb

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Thank you! I have been reading it on and off. The Kindle edition seems to present the entire book as one long paragraph, which is unusual to say the least, but it is still very interesting, although I am not quite sure where it is going.
 
S

Scribblenauts

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This really sounds like a very good book, and great excerpts by the way! :thup: , thanks a lot for sharing, and of course it's up to you but why not sharing your personal interpretations in the light of your knowledge as well?, this can be helpful to all of us, don't you agree?, after all there must be something behind your selections ;)
 

Hesper

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Scribblenauts said:
This really sounds like a very good book, and great excerpts by the way! :thup: , thanks a lot for sharing, and of course it's up to you but why not sharing your personal interpretations in the light of your knowledge as well?, this can be helpful to all of us, don't you agree?, after all there must be something behind your selections ;)
Sure, I'd love to :)

Here we will see the sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle, worship of physical power. It is the man who is worshiped, the female relegated to the fate of Echo in the Narcissus myth.

As Coulanges continues to probe into the history of this ancient religion he eventually uses terms such as "empire" to describe the worship. And that is indeed what it is. As we find ourselves imagining what it would be like to live in a family in which the father has absolute control over the house, the life and death of his family members, while the sacred fire sits in judgment in the living room, one gets an eery impression of visiting the foundations of Mordor. Imagine having a pathological father in an environment like this!

I can't help but wonder of the worship of the sky gods, those bearded comets, and if the whole concept of patriarchy wasn't dramatically imposed upon the minds of humanity in such a fashion. I'm not an anthropologist, but it seems much more likely that ancient society would see a bearded god in the sky as being male than female. I may be experiencing the fundamental attribution error, in which I attribute cause and effect to the wrong object or situation entirely, but it seems plausible for me at the moment.

Chapters 4 of Book 1,
1-2 of Book 2

We are not to suppose that this ancient religion resembled those founded when men became more enlightened. For a great number of centuries the human race has admitted no religious doctrine except on two conditions: first, that it proclaimed but one god; and, second, that it was addressed to all men, and was accessible to all, systematically rejecting no class or race. But this primitive religion fulfilled neither of these conditions. Not only did it not offer one only god to the adoration of men, but its gods did not accept the adoration of all men. They did not offer themselves as the gods of the human race. They did not even resemble Brahma, who was at least the god of one whole great caste, nor the Panhellenian Zeus, who was the god of an entire nation. In this primitive religion each god could be adored only by one family. Religion was purely domestic.

We must illustrate this important point; otherwise the intimate relation that existed between this ancient religion and the constitution of the Greek and Roman family may not be fully understood.

The worship of the dead in no way resembled the Christian worship of the saints. One of the first rules of this worship was, that it could be offered by each family only to those deceased persons who belonged to it by blood. The funeral obsequies could be religiously performed only by the nearest relative. As to the funeral meal, which was renewed at stated seasons, the family alone had a right to take part in it, and every stranger was strictly excluded. They believed that the dead ancestor accepted no offerings save from his own family; he desired no worship save from his own descendants. The presence of one who was not of the family disturbed the rest of the manes [souls of the dead]. The law, therefore, forbade a stranger to approach a tomb. To touch a tomb with the foot, even by change, was an impious act, after which the guilty one was expected to pacify the dead and purify himself.

The worship of the dead was nothing more than the worship of ancestors. Lucian, while ridiculing common beliefs, explains them clearly to use when he says the man who has died without leaving a son, receives no offerings, and is exposed to perpetual hunger.

In India, as in Greece, an offering could be made to a dead person only by one who had descended from him. The law of the Hindus, like Athenian law, forbade a stranger, even if he were a friend, to be invited to the funeral banquet. It was so necessary that these banquets should be offered by the descendants of the dead, and not by others, that the manes, in their resting-place, were supposed often to pronounce this wish: "May there be successively born of our line sons who, in all coming time, may offer us rice, boiled in milk, honey, and clarified butter."

Hence it was, that, in Greece and Rome, as in India, it was the son's duty to make the libations and the sacrifices to the manes of his father and of all his ancestors. To fail in this duty was to commit the grossest act of impiety possible, since the interruption of this worship caused the dead to fall from their happy state. This negligence was nothing less than the crime of parricide, multiplied as many times as there were ancestors in the family.

[This puts a whole new twist to the Focus on the Family nonsense, doesn't it!]

There were neither uniform rules nor a common ritual for this domestic religion. Each family was most completely independent. No external power had the right to regulate either the ceremony or the creed. There was no other priest than the father: as a priest, he knew no hierarchy. The pontifex of Rome, or the archon of Athens, might, indeed, ascertain if the father of a family performed all his religious ceremonies; but he had no right to order the least modification of them. Every family had its ceremonies, which were peculiar to itself, its particular celebrations, its formulas of prayer, its hymns. The father, sole interpreter and sole priest of his religion, alone had the right to teach it, and could teach it only to his son.

Thus religion dwelt not in temples, but in the house...It grew up spontaneously in the human mind; its cradle was the family; each family created its own gods.

But we must notice this peculiarity - that the domestic religion was transmitted only from male to male. This was owing, no doubt, to the idea that generation was due entirely to the males. The belief of primitive ages, as we find it in the Vedas, and as we find vestiges of it in all Greek and Roman law, was that the reproductive power resided exclusively in the father. The father alone possessed the mysterious principle of existence, and transmitted the spark of life. From this old notion it followed that the domestic worship always passed from male to male; that a woman particapted in it only through her father or her husband; and, finally, that after death women had not the same part as men in the worship and the ceremonies of the funeral meal. Still other important consequences in private law and in the constitution of the family resulted form this: we shall see them as we proceed.

Chapter 1 of Book 2

If we transport ourselves in thought to those ancient generations of men, we find in each house an altar, and around this altar the family assembled. The family meets every morning to address its first prayers to the sacred fire, and in the evening to invoke it for a last time. In the course of the day the members are once more assembled near the fire for the meal, of which they partake piously after prayer and libation. In all these religious acts, hymns, which their father have handed down, are sung in common by the family.

Outside the house, near at hand, in a neighboring field, there is a tomb - the second home of this family. There several generations of ancestors repose together; death has not separated them. They remain grouped in this second existence, and continue to form an indissoluble family.

Generation alone was not the foundation of the ancient family. What proves this is, that the sister did not bear the same relation to the family as the brother; that the emancipated son and the married daughter ceased completely to form a part of the family; and, in fine, several other important provisions of the Greek and Roman laws, that we shall have occasion to examine farther along.

The father may have affection for his daughter, but he cannot will her his property. The laws of succession - that is to say, those laws which most faithfully reflect the ideas that men had of the family - are in open contradiction both with the order of birth and with natural affection.

We shall see farther on that the authority of the father or husband, far from having been a first cause, was itself an effect; it was derived from religion, and was established by religion. Superior strength, therefore, was not the principle that established the family.

The members of the ancient family were united by something more powerful than birth, affection, or physical strength; this was the religion of the sacred fire, and of dead ancestors. This caused the family to form a single body, both in this life and in the next. The ancient family was a religious rather than a natural association..Religion, it is true, did not create the family; but certainly it gave the family its rules; and hence it comes that the constitution of the ancient family was so different from what it would have been if it had owed its foundation to natural affection.

The ancient Greek language has a very significant word to designate a family. It is a word which signifies, literally, that which is near a hearth. A family was a group of persons whom religion permitted to invoke the same sacred fire, and to offer the funeral repast to the same ancestors.

Chapter 2

Two families live side by side; but they have different gods. In one, a young daughter takes a part, from her infancy, in the religion of her father; she invokes his sacred fire; every day she offers it libations. She surrounds it with flowers and garlands and festal days. She asks its protection, and returns thanks for its favors. This paternal fire is her god. Let a young man of the neighboring family ask her in marriage, and something more is at stake than to pass from one house to the other. She must abandon the paternal fire, and henceforth invoke that of the husband. She must abandon her religion, practice other rites, and pronounce other prayers. She must give up the god of her infancy, and put herself under the protection of a god whom she knows not. Let her not hope to remain faithful to the one while honoring the other; for in this religion it is an immutable principle that the same person cannot invoke two sacred fires or two series of ancestors. "From the hour of marriage," says one of the ancients, "the wife has no longer anything in common with the domestic religion of her fathers; she sacrifices at the hearth of her husband." (Stephen of Byzantium)

Now, the religion that created marriage was not that of Jupiter, or of Juno, or of the other gods of Olympus. The ceremony did not take place in a temple; it was performed in a house, and the domestic god presided. When the religion of the gods of the sky became preponderant, men could not help invoking them also in the prayers of marriage, it is true; it even became habitual to go to the temple before the marriage, and offer sacrifices to these gods. These sacrifices were called the preludes of marriage; but the principal and essential part of the ceremony always took place before the domestic hearth.

Among the Greeks the marriage ceremony consisted, so to speak, of three acts. The first took place before the hearth of the father; the third before the hearth of the husband; the second was the passage from the one to the other.

The institution of sacred marriage must be as old in the Indo-European race as the domestic religion; for the one could not exist without the other. This religion taught man that the conjugal union was something more than relation of the sexes and a fleeting affection, and united man and wife by the powerful bond of the same worship and the same belief. The marriage ceremony, too, was so solemn, and produced effects so grave, that it is not surprising that these men did not think it permitted or possible to have more than one wife in each house. Such a religion could not admit of polygamy...Divorce was almost impossible
The fact that the religion is focused completely on the family suggests a number of possible scenarios, none of them mutually exclusive. As we will see, not all families had a religion. Those that did not eventually became the clients and slaves to those that did. Perhaps there was simply an evolutionary advantage to having the empire of the mind, the foundation of mind control, that created a tight-knit, obedient family. The head of the small tribe who was creative enough to imagine a religion and then instate it would be at the foundation of an empire.

Perhaps it was inspiration from witnessing the destruction of a civilization, and those who were powerful before utilizing their knowledge of the shock doctrine to control their families. However, the religion would have had to have been seen as legitimate, in my opinion, for a whole family to adopt it from the beginning. The sacred fire and the gods of the ancestors were looked at to keep the world in harmony. The outer gods were not necessary for marriage and, since marriage and the domestic religion were inseparable, the sky gods were probably later additions. Obviously they went OCD with the domestic beliefs, as anyone would do in such a frightening and complex situation.

But that then leads me to the question of why they worshiped the dead in the first place? Why were the dead considered the gods, instead of things in physical nature (obviously I'm thinking of the comets, or even simply the beautiful sun)? It brings to mind the belief found in The Wave, that, at the end of the world, the dead would come back to haunt everyone. Did an ancient religion believe that the judgment of civilizations was brought about by the souls of the damned, and that only by keeping them happy could one hope to thwart their vengeful intentions? To find the belief in a sacred fire so foundational to the origins of our civilization, and knowing that the Stoics were thinking along similar lines, brings to my mind the vision of a television. I wonder if, at some point in the distant past, they were communicating with "the dead" in their living rooms! I know, crazy!

There will be more later :)
 
S

Scribblenauts

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Hesper said:
But that then leads me to the question of why they worshiped the dead in the first place? Why were the dead considered the gods, instead of things in physical nature (obviously I'm thinking of the comets, or even simply the beautiful sun)? It brings to mind the belief found in The Wave, that, at the end of the world, the dead would come back to haunt everyone. Did an ancient religion believe that the judgment of civilizations was brought about by the souls of the damned, and that only by keeping them happy could one hope to thwart their vengeful intentions? To find the belief in a sacred fire so foundational to the origins of our civilization, and knowing that the Stoics were thinking along similar lines, brings to my mind the vision of a television. I wonder if, at some point in the distant past, they were communicating with "the dead" in their living rooms! I know, crazy!

There will be more later :)
Thanks for another well chosen excerpts following the line of thought in the previous ones

from what I've been reading in the forum here I wonder why in the first place the ancients considered an exterior god other than the one within, let it be the dead, comets or suns, to me that's indeed giving up ones own power putting them under the mercy of another, and that makes me think that once the deceased realize that they have been living their lives powerless because of such belief, they of course will get mad and they will wait for a chance to revenge (or at least take that power back or something), so I don't think "keeping them happy" would solve or stop anything, that's just another powerless thinking don't you agree?, after all civilizations vanished (apparently when the right moment comes, it... comes)

I don't get the part about sacred fire as a foundation to the origins of our civilization !, how so?
and the television thing also !, do you mean "eeee equals mmmm cccccc squaaared oh great soul of Ein-stine" thing :D, or did I lost you here?

waiting for more, and thanks again for sharing
 

Rabelais

Dagobah Resident
FOTCM Member
This is an excellent book. I am just about finished with it. Its fascinating how familial religion morphed into governments, and then on to monotheism. Each step of the way leading to a finer order of control. It is also interesting how, at least for western civilization, this all began with the super ancient Aryan populations of central Asia before they had branched off into the groups which migrated to occupy India, Greece and Italy. Nothing is mentioned as to the motives of these migrations, but I'd wager they were tied to cataclysmic events.
 

Lan8r

Jedi Master
FOTCM Member
I too, am finding this book very fascinating. Still reading it, I'm around the time when familial religion morphed into the State. I can already see the writing on the wall with regards to morphing into monotheism (or so I think). I am very curious as to how the 'familial religion' practiced at this time came about. It was practiced by so many, so separated. Why is that so? What was the impetus? Where did that come from?

I am not understanding it as a 'religion of the dead' as much as a religion of the 'past ancestors'. As if maybe there was some internal drive towards the concept that 'we are you in the future' (so to speak)? Set aside the 'rites and rituals' and the 'worship of the Male'. All easily corrupted over time. The 'worship of the spirit of the ancestors' is prevalent in history all over the globe. It seems that it was not always, necessarily, perceived as so much a means of retribution, but more as a means of guidance and wisdom? Or my understanding is wrong. (more likely the case!)

I guess that it seems to me that the 'familial religion' at that time was based (loosely even) on a more ancient concept of 'worship'. But, my space/time continuum is off. I am just curious as to what was the basis of the 'familial religion'?

Anyway, just my thoughts at this point. I've got alot more reading to do.
 

SeekinTruth

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Freya said:
I too, am finding this book very fascinating. Still reading it, I'm around the time when familial religion morphed into the State. I can already see the writing on the wall with regards to morphing into monotheism (or so I think). I am very curious as to how the 'familial religion' practiced at this time came about. It was practiced by so many, so separated. Why is that so? What was the impetus? Where did that come from?

I am not understanding it as a 'religion of the dead' as much as a religion of the 'past ancestors'. As if maybe there was some internal drive towards the concept that 'we are you in the future' (so to speak)? Set aside the 'rites and rituals' and the 'worship of the Male'. All easily corrupted over time. The 'worship of the spirit of the ancestors' is prevalent in history all over the globe. It seems that it was not always, necessarily, perceived as so much a means of retribution, but more as a means of guidance and wisdom? Or my understanding is wrong. (more likely the case!)

I guess that it seems to me that the 'familial religion' at that time was based (loosely even) on a more ancient concept of 'worship'. But, my space/time continuum is off. I am just curious as to what was the basis of the 'familial religion'?

Anyway, just my thoughts at this point. I've got alot more reading to do.
It seems to me that after major cosmic cataclysms, and the collapse of society and a "dark age," the survivors were so traumatized, confused, and terrified that, combined with rigid superstitions coming about from the terror of it all, lots of authoritarian types took advantage to seek and secure a form of absolute power. With the help of authoritarian followers, they herded those under their immediate influence into this rigid, crazy social structure.

Probably an opportunity for pathological types of all sorts is also created by these cataclysms in many ways (including genetic mutations?). Then once that family social hierarchy is established, as opportunities are created or come up, they enlarge it until it reaches the city-state scale. What a way to control a large number of people. OSIT.
 

Carl

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
SeekinTruth said:
It seems to me that after major cosmic cataclysms, and the collapse of society and a "dark age," the survivors were so traumatized, confused, and terrified that, combined with rigid superstitions coming about from the terror of it all, lots of authoritarian types took advantage to seek and secure a form of absolute power. With the help of authoritarian followers, they herded those under their immediate influence into this rigid, crazy social structure.

Probably an opportunity for pathological types of all sorts is also created by these cataclysms in many ways (including genetic mutations?). Then once that family social hierarchy is established, as opportunities are created or come up, they enlarge it until it reaches the city-state scale. What a way to control a large number of people. OSIT.
Doesn't it just baffle the mind! Reading this, I got the idea of religion as a 'double edged sword' in that respect. Because, obviously, religion was the main motivator for people organising, working, and generally even living their lives. But at the same time, it was fundamentally one based upon the fear of exploding space rocks - and for some reason, the barbaric "feeding souls of dead family members" got thrown into the mix, which is one part I don't quite understand.

Coulanges tries to dissuade the reader from believing that it was all just an elaborate con from the beginning, and I have to agree with him somewhat (though he doesn't have the cataclysm data). But how did it devolve into the whole concept of the chosen people/family/gens (where other people were seen as less than human), the patriarchal rule of everything, and the whole 'divine right to rule and enslave others' idea? Some enterprising psychopaths had their hands on it from the very beginning, it seems.

How so many people could believe in this crap for so long is what is really disheartening. And nothing has changed since. We are still a class of clients for the patricians, who are allowed the freedom of buying a car and house with somebody else's money, and working our whole lives "in the fields" to pay it off.
 
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