General Bardic Studies

  1. Indo-European Culture: Discuss in general terms the bardic arts prevalent within a single (preferably ancient) Indo-European culture; explain how those bardic arts fit into that culture and religion. (300-600 words)

Ancient Greece was very prolific in the arts. One is able to see what types of bardic arts by looking at the gods. The Greeks honored the nine Muses as the leaders in these arts. Each had her own specialty: Calliope was the Muse of epic poetry; Erato, love poetry; Euterpe, lyric poetry; Melpomene, tragedy; Thalia, comedy; Clio, history; Urania, astronomy; Polyhymnia, sacred song; and Terpsichore, dance” (Littleton). They were well honored by the artists of their time. Most plays, epic poetry recitals and works of music and art began with an invocation to the nine muses to hear and bless the works. The first of the bardic arts to flourish in Ancient Greece is the oral tradition of poetry. This was because writing had disappeared for a time, and the stories and histories were kept alive through songs and oral poetry (Krentz). This reflects the value that the Greeks placed on remembering the past glories of their heroes and the stories that told of their people and their gods. Around 800 BC writing returned to Greece, and Homer is famously remembered for writing down two epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey (Krentz).

Once writing had returned to Greece a plethora of works began to be created, including drama, epic and lyrical poetry, philosophical essays, and histories. The dramatic plays in Ancient Greece were both tragedies and comedies. Not only were these written works of drama, but they were also often accompanied by music. Musicians also performed at festivals and private parties. “The music of the Greeks relied chiefly on melody and rhythm. Harmony was unknown to the Greeks” (Krentz). The plays told stories of the gods in such a way that they would be like the soap operas of their time. They also told of how the ethics and morals of the gods came into play in the lives of man.

The great tragic playwrights of the time were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The tragedies explored human emotions and also how the people of Ancient Greece viewed the gods in their lives. Many of the tragedies that are described happen because the characters have offended the gods or have gone against one of the decrees or values that the society held at the time, such as controlling hubris, offering hospitality, and caring for one’s family. Aristophanes is the most famous of the comedic playwrights. “His plays reflect the spirit of Athens at that time, with the Athenians’ sense of freedom, vitality, and high spirits, and their ability to laugh at themselves” (Myrsiades). This is especially true because once Athens lost the Peloponnesian War, their freedom of speech was curbed and the comedy plays that included political satire were banned, meaning that only comedies about individuals and their personal problems could be written about. The comedic plays reflect the same types of stories that were told about the gods in the myths, making the gods lives more relatable to the humans on earth.

Another art form that Ancient Greece is known for is poetry. Epic poems, such as those written by Homer, are ones that often relate the histories of the people and the culture. In them, the reader can see how the people lived, what kinds of things they valued, and how they viewed and interacted with the gods on a daily basis. “The Iliad and the Odyssey emphasized ideals of honor and bravery and had enormous influence on Greek culture and education as well as Greek literature” (Myrsiades). The epic poems were tales that explained how intimately the people were involved with the gods, and how the gods were part of the lives of the people.

Hesiod is another famous Greek poet that wrote Theogony and Works and Days. These tell, respectively, the story of how the gods came to be, and how the Greek peasants lived. The former is an important piece of work because of how it codifies the stories of some of the gods and is where many of the creations myths of the gods are told; the latter is essential in understanding how the day-to-day lives of the people played out. It not only explained to the peasants how they should live, but also shows us now how they carried out tasks and how the gods influenced their lives everyday (Myrsiades).

One other art form that was prevalent in later Greek culture was philosophical writing. Prose became the preferred form of writing over verse. These later writings focused more on rhetoric, the art of composing and delivering persuasive speeches. These became an important part of life in Greece, especially in Athens, as a way to operate with a democracy. Famous orators, such as Isocrates and Demosthenes, used this bardic art in their political careers (Myrsiades).

 

 

  1. Genres: Describe four “genres” of bardic arts, at least one of which must be poetry. For each genre, compare and contrast its appearance and/or use in two single (preferably ancient) Indo-European cultures. The two cultures need not be the same for all four genres. (300 words each)

Poetry

Poetry is seen in both Hellenic and Norse Indo-European cultures. The most notable examples of epic poetry in the Hellenic culture are The Iliad and The Odyssey. These were works by Homer that were excessively long (more than 16,000 verses) and followed a strict formula of repetitive hexameter using noun-epithet pairings. Homer used what is called “cumulative poetic structure,” where a verse is made up by adding phrase upon phrase, and a description of a single person or event is made up by adding verse upon verse (“Homer”). The works of Homer were likely written between the 7th and 9th centuries BC, more than 1000 years before the Poetic Edda was recorded 11th century.

Edda, meaning story or song, is what the Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson called his work, and it was later given to the Poetic Edda as well. The Poetic Edda is collection of 38 anonymous poems, with a bit of prose thrown in between, that tells the stories of the gods and heroes of Iceland. Twenty-four of the tales tell about the heroes of Iceland, their deeds and their values. The other fourteen are more founded in mythology, containing information about both the beginning and the end of the universe. The longest of the lays, “The Sayings of the High One,” is most useful in studied the medieval people of Scandinavia, because is reveals the morals they held and the wisdom they followed (Ringler “Edda”). The structure of the Poetic Edda uses alliteration and strophic, or chorus form. Like nearly all oral tradition poetry, these devices made the pieces easy to remember, and flow well off the tongue.

Both of these examples of poetry were the main ‘textbooks’ for the children and folk of their cultures to learn the legends and mythology of their cultures (Shelmerdine). The examples also hold similar worth to modern culture and studies today, being some of the important bits of written work from the culture that have been preserved and give us the same insight into those cultures as the ancient people had by reading or hearing them the first time. They differ in their writing style, Homer’s work being truly epic in size and scope while still telling a singular storyline, and the Poetic Edda being more serialized in it’s stories, much as an anthology would be. In structure, the work of Homer utilized the cumulative poetic structure in order to aid memorization, while the Poetic Edda used a variety of poetic devices.

Music & Song

Music is a truly ancient art that has its roots as deep as human history. People most likely began singing as soon as basic language was developed, and that singing has progressed and transcended through cultures and changing times and regimes. People use music and song to express feelings and ideas, like love, pain, sadness, and revolution. People use music and song in religious ceremonies and in work. Music is used to create sacred space and set a tone that separates sacred space from the ordinary world. Song is use in work to help the work seem easier by keeping spirits high and in tasks that require cooperate, keeping all the people in rhythm with each other (Tunks).

One of the oldest surviving pieces of music from ancient Greece is the Epitaph of Seikilos. It demonstrates the way in which music of the time still captured the motions and feelings of the folk then. Because the Greeks existed in a culture where writing flourished and was encouraged, the music is notated (surprising in what seems a rudimentary form of ABC notation) and the lyrics are clearly written in 4 lines of iambic pentameter. There were many other songs in ancient Greece that have passing descriptions, from work songs to songs praising a specific deity, to songs of advice, and songs recalling adventures. Most of these songs have not survived other than begin mentioned by writers like Athenaeus, Pollus, and Plutarch (Mathiesen).

The music of India first became popular in Hindu temples and in the courts of the maharajahs of India. Indian music operates very differently that Western music, using a different scale than we are used to hearing. The notes of the scale in Indian music are called ragas, and each has a meaning that is associated with certain moods, seasons, or time of day. Whereas Western music (with the exception of jazz) rarely improvises and uses written music to perform he same way each time, in Indian music that performer chooses a raga that fits with what they are trying to achieve with their music, and then improvises around the notes in that scale (Tunks).

These two cultures differ in their notation of music and the style of performing. Whereas the Greeks have many examples of written music, and perform the music as written, the Indians know the ragas, but rely on improvisation in performance rather than following a score of music.

Storytelling

Storytelling was a popular pastime for many ancient cultures. Oral tradition was a way to pass on information that couldn’t be recorded due to lack of writing or illiteracy. It connects generations, cultures, and societies (Carlson). Bards in ancient cultures were the transmitters of knowledge and the people who had the ability to bridge cultures as the ‘cultural paintbrush’ swept across Europe. They often did this through stories that explained how to react to different situations, taught morals, stories of the gods, and provided answers to what came before and what comes after. Early storytelling in cultures probably took the form of chants that praised the heavenly bodies and expressed joy in life. As people became curious about the world around cultures developed stories and myths that tried to explain natural occurrences, such as day and night and the earth and oceans. While many people in a community told stories, the best became the bards. They were the entertainers and historians of the group (Carlson).

In Scandinavia, there were poets called skalds. They were the court poets, and came mostly from Iceland. Most of their stories praised the kings and rulers whom they served. Much of their work is preserved in the Icelandic sags of the 1100s and 1200s. It was a formulaic form of storytelling that made it easy to memorize, thanks to regulated patterns of alliteration, consonance, and kennings (a type of extended metaphor) (Ringler “Skald”).

In the Celtic world stories were told by the filidh, the Celtic bards, who were educated upper-class men designated as guardians of their oral-based culture. They kept track of the Celtic history and mythology. Each filidh had at least 12 years of training in order to learn a huge number of stories, verse, histories, and genealogies. They were trained to maintain a deep concentration, be able to memorize easily and weave words as easily as a spinner weaves a tapestry. They were highly respected members of society, and it was an honor for people to host them in their homes in exchange for tales. The Celts believed the spoken word and the power of memory were gifts from the gods. “The spoken word held the power of breath, was literally inspiration, which was considered a gift from the great goddess Brigit, patron of poetry and divination” (Freeman). This power of the spoken word linked simple tales from entertainment to magical acts and gave words the power to invoke the deities. The title fili, which in generally translated as meaning “poet” or “storyteller,” has also been interpreted as meaning “weaver of spells.” As Christian religion came to the Celtic world the filidh survived taking over many of the roles that had once belonged to the other two groups of the three-fold division, the bards and druids (Freeman).

These two culture differ in their approach to storytelling in that the Norse skalds created stories based on how they would be received. They told of histories and conquests, and served the kings rulers. The Celtic filidh were part of the hierarchy and commanded respect and rank in their own right. They were highly trained and knew literally hundreds on stories. Another difference is the difference between stories that were written and those that were spoken. In Nordic culture the lays were more likely to be written down, even if later in history. In the Celtic world, because of the magical acts tied to the spoken versus the written word, tales weren’t written down much until Christians came and began writing things down, but influencing the written product.

 Law

The practice of law goes back far in human history, probably because fairness is universal human drive and desire, and justice is often considered an important virtue to cultivate. The important Gods of a pantheon nearly always contained one whose domain included Justice. For example Zeus in Greek mythology and Jupiter in Roman mythology both were defenders of Justice. Law is a bardic art because it was those educated people who were chosen by both the public and the will of the gods to dispense the justice that the gods demanded. The bards had the responsibility and skill to handle difficult conflicts and use the written laws to explain the consequences.

In Rome the people created their first written public code of law in 451 BCE called The Twelve Tables. It was simple and basic, printed on tablets that were attached to the speaker’s podium in the Roman Forum. The idea was that all Roman citizens were equal and afforded the same basic rights. They were based on civil, criminal and religious customs that dealt with everything from building codes, to marriage, to murder. The laws themselves were written up by decemvirs, members of a council of 10 men, and later all Roman boys were required to memorize these laws. It is thanks to this required memorization that the basic tenets of the laws were preserved (Bannon). The legal system in Rome grew and became more complex as time went by and more detailed tenets were needed to answer the growing problems. There was still a general law called jus gentium (law of nations) that was mostly common-sense ideas of fairness and took local tradition and customs into account. Rome became the first society with bards specially trained to interpret the law for people seeking counsel. These bards are now called lawyers (Nice). 

In Greece the first written code of law was introduced by Draco in 621 BCE. Before it was introduced many people in Athens were unhappy with the justice system because if was unfair and unclear. Only a few aristocratic judges knew the laws, and they often favored the higher-class citizens. When Draco put the laws into writing he made it so people could read for themselves what the laws were. It took a lot of the unfair power out of the hands of the nobility and put in back in the hands of the people where everyone was on equal ground. Draco is often criticized today for the laws he wrote because of how harsh the consequences were. “Draco’s code was said to be “written in blood” because it made almost all crimes punishable by death” (Kagan). However, even though the punishments may have seemed cruel or harsh, they were at least fair to all prosecuted. Before the written laws retribution for murder was left to the victims family, and bloody feuds between families happened all too often. The Draconian Code helped Athens become one of the first city-states in Greece because it placed the responsibility for upholding the law with the government (Kagan).

The difference in these two cultures is hard to separate due to their similarities, but exists more in the complexity of the laws. In the Greek culture, the laws were harsh, but equal. They were more a written form that clarified those customs and traditions that many knew. The Draconian laws are criticized later in history due to their harshness. This differs from the Roman laws, which are often praised for being the beginnings of modern law. The Roman laws were much more complex, probably in part because as the Roman Empire grew, so did it’s need to take other cultures into account. The Greeks didn’t have as much to worry about on that front, and so didn’t have as much need for specialized knowledge or specialized laws.

 

  1. Forms/styles: Describe four forms or styles of bardic arts in either ancient or modern times or a combination of each. Include examples of each form. At least one such description should be for a poetic form; the remainder can be for any bardic form or style. (100 words each [examples not to be included in word count])

Epic Poetry

Epic poems are long narrative poems. They generally tell the story of a hero and his deeds or the acts of the gods. At first epics were part of an oral tradition meaning that they were very formulaic. This allowed for the ease of memorization. The singers of these epics would play the lyre while they used the broad outline of a tale to sing their story. They used oral, formulaic writing, meaning that they had a set of memorized descriptions, phrases, and scenes that they fit into their story.

Later epics were written in a metered form, began with an invocation to a divine being for inspiration, and started in the middle of the story (in medias res). In Greek epics, such as The Iliad and The Odyssey, noun-epithet pairings were used to help the poet fit into the metered form (hexameter in this case) and to aid in memorization.

An example from The Odyssey that includes an epithet is: “So when rosy-fingered Dawn made love to Orion, you precious gods were all of you furious till Diana went and killed him in Ortygia. So again when Ceres fell in love with Iasion, and yielded to him in a thrice-ploughed fallow field, Jove came to hear of it before so very long and killed Iasion with his thunderbolts” (Homer).

 

Lyric Poetry

Lyric poetry is called such because it was originally sung as lyrics, accompanied by the lyre. It came after the epics, as most often describes personal feelings rather than heroic acts. A famous Greek poet, Sappho, was especially well known for his compositions in melic poetry, a sub-section of lyric poetry. “No Greek love poetry has ever matched the passion and tragic feeling of Sappho’s verse” (Myrisiades). Melic poems are extremely emotional and rarely include didactic or satirical elements. It is also written for a single voice, as opposed to choral arrangements, which were meant to be sung by many voices. Melic poems were also mean to be sung in front of close friends of the gods, as opposed to in groups.

Here is a love poem written by Sappho in the lyric style, translated by Ambrose Philips:

Blest as the immortal gods is he,

The youth who fondly sits by thee,

And hears and sees thee, all the while,

Softly speaks and sweetly smile.

 

‘Twas this deprived my soul of rest,

And raised such tumults in my breast;

For, while I gazed, in transport tossed,

My breath was gone, my voice was lost;

 

My bosom glowed; the subtle flame

Ran quick through all my vital frame;

O’er my dim eyes a darkness hung;

My ears with hollow murmurs rung;

 

In dewy damps my limbs were chilled;

My blood with gentle horrors thrilled:

My feeble pulse forgot to play;

I fainted, sunk, and died away.

Rhetoric/Speeches

The art of rhetoric, or oration, is the art of writing and giving speeches that persuade others to the way you want them to see things using literary devices, such as similes, metaphors, and hyperbole. Speech-making began in Athens around 400 BC, and Aristotle wrote extensively on the art of rhetoric, famously divided the types of arguments one can use into three categories: “(1) ethical (the influence of the speaker’s personality); (2) pathetic (the influence of the speaker’s use of emotional appeal); and (3) logical (the influence of the use of formal principles of reasoning in proof)” (Copeland). These are still the same three categories that are taught in speech and argumentative writing classes today, where they are referred to as ethos, pathos, and logos. Cicero is perhaps the most notable orator, and is still remembered for his division of steps to prepare for a speech: “(1) invention (analysis of speech situation and audience, investigation and study of subject matter, and selection of speech materials); (2) disposition (the arrangement of the speech materials under what we now call introduction, discussion, and conclusion); (3) style (the use and grouping of words to express ideas clearly, accurately, vividly, and appropriately); (4) memory (methods of memorizing material); and (5) delivery (the oral presentation)” (Copeland). When working to write, memorize, and deliver a speech, it is still good practice to take Cicero’s five steps into account to be sure the speech carries the weight the speaker intends.

Here is an excerpt from a speech given by Cicero:

“When, O Catiline, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now? Do not the nightly guards placed on the Palatine Hill—do not the watches posted throughout the city—does not the alarm of the people, and the union of all good men—does not the precaution taken of assembling the senate in this most defensible place—do not the looks and countenances of this venerable body here present, have any effect upon you? Do you not feel that your plans are detected? Do you not see that your conspiracy is already arrested and rendered powerless by the knowledge which every one here possesses of it? What is there that you did last night, what the night before— where is it that you were—who was there that you summoned to meet you—what design was there which was adopted by you, with which you think that any one of us is unacquainted?”

Drama

Drama in the context of Ancient Greece fell into two very broad categories: comedy and tragedy. Both were used to both entertain and teach moral lessons regarding those who went against the laws of the gods or the customs of their culture.  Drama also often allowed the people of the city-states to examine a political situation that could not have otherwise been brought to light or been discussed. For instance, in Medea, when a match is made between Jason and Medea on questionable grounds, it all ends tragedy, with her children killed by her own hand, a reprehensible act. In the ancient version, the children were killed by the people of Corinth, but with Euripides retelling the people of Greece were able to examine the concept of the mother versus the motherland destroying her own people and for what reasons. Drama in our modern society is still used to draw eyes to situations and circumstances that could not be broached by polite discourse. Such is the case with The Crucible, commenting on the Red Scare, and Gone Too Far, commenting on racism.

 

 

  1. Bardic Figure: Describe the life, fame and general techniques of a historical or mythical bardic figure in a (preferably ancient) Indo-European culture. (minimum 300 words)

Homer is the great blind poet of Ancient Greece, blessed by the Muses and well known, specifically for his writing of The Iliad and The Odyssey. It is unknown if all of these works were even written by the same man or if two or more different men wrote them. Very little is actually known about Homer. The only things that are known about him have been gleaned from his works. He is thought to have been from Ionia, due the prevalence of the Ionian dialect in the epics, though there is no record of him having lived in any specific place. The people of Chios claim him, as his descendants and prodigies, the Homeridae, lived on Chios, one of the islands in Ionia. It is postulated that he lived sometime between the 7th and 9th centuries BC. The elements that point to this are certain technological and martial advances of that time period, as well as the slang and idioms common during that era. It was Homer who codified the epics in writing (“Homer”).

Before Homer wrote down The Iliad and The Odyssey the great bards of old were known as aoidos, or singers. Homer refers to them as such in his works, and describes them singing songs that tell stories, but could be related in one sitting to their audience. Before Homer, poetry remained an oral tradition, and as such descriptive details in the poems would change and grow with each telling and depending on who the audience was (Gascoigne).  When Homer wrote down his epic poems, he introduced a new concept: stories that could be recorded in writing, told nearly the same way every time, and told in episodes. These poems “could achieve new and far more complex effects, in literary and psychological terms, than those attainable in the more anecdotal and episodic songs of his predecessors” (“Homer”).

The style of writing that Homer used classifies him as an aoidos, though of longer works. It seems through his use of words in his work that he must have started as an ordinary aoidos and began memorizing and building his own repertoire of songs and phrases, thus it would have been easier for him to replicate the style and form in The Iliad and The Odyssey. He wrote formulaic poems, using commonly known epithets that were already being used in other works of oral poetry. These were used because they fit the requirements of hexameter, and were already accepted as the contemporary form of poetry and song at the time, and because of their easily memorizable nature.

The work of Homer is perhaps the most influential classical work in Western literature. This is in part to the sheer number of translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey, but also because of the value that the Greeks at the time placed upon the great epics. The stories reflect the values of the Ancient Greek culture, and as such were used as educational sources for teaching about morals and living in the world in general, and were viewed as a representation of the unity of the Hellenic peoples through their common heroes and acts of heroism. Homer did not only influence the writing of contemporary western society, but also many of the same things he used in his oral poetry are still observable in living oral traditions today. He was building on the ability of oral poets to elaborate and expand on existing works. An aoidos would listen to others tell a story and replace unfamiliar words or parts with some phrase, scene or theme he is already familiar with. He would also expand on the story to include parts that he knows that are missing. “Every singer in a living oral tradition tends to develop what he acquires” (“Homer”).  Homer, whether one man or many, has literature that has remained alive and viable for more than 2500 years, and as such is still considered an important part of our education today.

  1. Role of the Modern Bard: Describe the role of the modern-day, Neopagan bard in the context of ritual (100 words), Ar nDraiocht Fein (100 words) and the greater Neopagan community (100 words).

The role of a bard in history had many faces. They were teachers and keepers of history, entertainers and mediators, and also aided in rituals by calling out to the gods and lending their energy. This is similar to how the role of the bard translates into the modern context.

The duties of the modern-day, Neopagan bard in the context of ritual include a few different things. The first of which is to be present to be sure the folk are prepared with the songs, and to lead in the energy raising that is produced with music and song. The bard is often also in charge of leading or having integral parts of the working or the Calling of the Waters. While this may seem to be a more priestly duty at first, it is also an act which requires a great deal of “meta-physical juice” and that is something that the bard is able to create and, with practice, control and guide in the workings required. In addition to this kind of energy work, the bard is often also tasked with being sure that the energy raised in a ritual doesn’t fade. For instance, between parts of the CooR, the folk can sometimes lose focus and thus the energy level will fall, but the bard can keep all the folk engaged and the energy level high with song while the leaders of the ritual prepared for the next portion.

In Ar nDraíocht Fein, the bard continues some of the same functions as she does in ritual, but also takes on more of the teaching and keeper of history role. This is something that we have not seen too much of yet, mostly I think because we are still a very young organization. As keepers of history, the idea of having the bards write out our history in song and story has been toyed with, but not too much has come of it yet. There have been a few who have written down some of the bigger happenings in ADF, but more have been on a playful note, rather than serious. This isn’t to say that the two can’t be mixed, but rather that there is a lot more that can be done to further the keeping of our own history. I also see the bards of ADF taking on a more active role in teaching through song. It is one of the most effective ways that young children are taught, and those methods work for many people. In addition, as ADF grows and matures as an organization more children will have the opportunity to be raised in our tradition, and it will be then that having songs to teach the young will be very beneficial.

As far of the modern-day, Neopagan bard in the larger community is concerned, I think there are leaps and bounds that can be made, especially using the “mediator-hat”. Music is a universal language, and that means that even if our beliefs don’t align exactly with other groups, or even not at all, there is something to be said for the power of music to bring folk together. As a larger Neo-Pagan community, there is a long way to go before equal rights are recognized for our minority status as a religion. If the modern-day bards, from multiple traditions, can create and perform music that helps to unite us as a movement, then that’s one more step that can bring us further away from having to fear prejudice in our secular community.

 

  1. Practical Bardry: Compose or find a bardic piece (of any appropriate genre or form) suitable for ADF ritual. Describe the process you used for discovery and/or composition of the piece and how it was (or could be) used effectively in a ritual context. (100 words [text of piece not to be included in word count])

This piece, “The Call the Brighde,” is something I wrote and use as an invocation when making offerings to Brighde in ritual space. I like using it because it addresses each of her domains succinctly, and as it praises her also asks for her blessing in those areas. As happens most often when I write, the tune came to me first, with some of the words to accompany it. I first worked out the rhythm and syllabic counts of each line (so it would fit the tune I kept hearing in my head), and then determined if I wanted to have a firm rhyme scheme. Then it was a matter of listening for the message and writing down the words that would fit with the format I’d come up with.

“The Call to Brighde”

Brighde of the Sacred Flame,

Hold me in your arms tonight.

Brighde with your healing words,

Fill me with your healing light.

 

Brighde of the heated forge,

Strengthen and temper me.

Brighde with your waters pure,

Let the rain wash down on me.

 

Brighde, you’re a poet wise.

Let your wisdom flow through me.

Brighde with you honeyed words,

Fill me with your melody.

 

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Tunks, Thomas W. “Music.” World Book Advanced. World Book, 2012. Web.  19 Jan. 2012.

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