Epictetus – The Wisdom Of A Stoic Master: The Secrets To Living A Good Life Revealed

One of the most important questions we ask ourselves is about the way we should live our lives. What is really important and how should we act?

Luckily, there is guidance available and some of the most profound thoughts on this were formed already two thousand years ago.

These words of wisdom were uttered by a man named Epictetus, who went on to influence the lives of some of the most powerful men of his era, all the way up to Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Yet this man was born a slave and supposedly had one of his legs maimed by a former cruel master, so that he always walked with a limp. This did not detter him from living a good life and achieving happiness.

Epictetus was not a theoretical philosopher living in his own world, but instead tried to make his philosophy down-to-earth and practical. This advice can be taken and applied in the real world as a guide for your day-to-day life.

His powerful words served as inspiration for many people undergoing hard times. Picture this: a man sitting in a prison with no knowledge whether he will ever get out.

The man could feel no hope, but instead his thoughts are turned inwards and draw inspiration from Epictetus.

There is a great similarity to the tale of Boethius and his reflections on life that I already wrote about. However the year is 1967 and the man is James Stockdale, an American pilot captured by the Vietnamese and put in a prisoner of war camp.

Stockdale credited the works of Epictetus for showing him the way on how to survive this ordeal. If these words could guide a man in such desperate times, just imagine what they could do for you.

We know the philosophy of Epictetus primarily through the works of his pupil, Arrian. Arrian noted down the teachings of Epictetus in two surviving works: “The Discourses” and “Enchiridion”, which is the Greek word for handbook.

It is the “Enchiridion” which is the most easily accessible work, as it is short and contains many practical lessons for your own life. It doesn’t take long to read, but can really change the way you view life in a very fundamental way.

All people search for happiness, but they usually go about it in the wrong way. They don’t realize that happiness can only come from within, from things that you have control over.

What are the things that you have control over? Your thoughts and your actions.

The main idea of the Stoics was that you should live a simple life, where you don’t concern yourself with things that you cannot control, and instead focus on the things that you can.

The world is what it is, random things will happen, and they might block your progress. Learn to accept it.

Living a simple life, where you act in a disciplined way, and where you act in accordance with your moral principles (virtue), will lead you to happiness.

For it is within you, that both your destruction and deliverance lie.” Epictetus

Below are some of the main lessons from the “Enchiridion”:
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The Consolation Of Philosophy: How A Man About To Die Found Happiness

It is a time of decay. Rome, once the mighty capital of an Empire spanning three continents, is a rotting, crumbling shadow of its former self.

The old institutions of the city, like the formerly powerful Senate, are still there, but entering the last few decades of their existence.

The ruler of Rome is no longer a Roman, but instead a barbarian King named Theodoric.

Theodoric was the King of the Ostrogoths, a Germanic tribe which had been previously settled in Pannonia on the banks of the Danube River. Always in search of land, they had then moved downriver into the Balkans.

From their settlements deep in Lower Moesia, the Ostrogoths had been pillaging the Eastern Roman Empire, even threatening the capital of Constantinople itself.

In order to protect his lands, the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno urged Theodoric to instead turn his wrath towards Italy.

There the ruler was Odoacer, the Germanic chieftain and King who had overthrown the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus. Thus he had ended the Empire in the West for all eternity.

Theodoric sent all his forces into battle and defeated Odoacer, founding an Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy. Rome became just another city in his kingdom.

It is 523 AD, and a man is sitting in a darkly-lit cell, awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit. He was falsely accused and brought down by dishonest men who coveted his position.

The man, in his mid-40s, takes up a pen and starts writing. One question bothers him: How is it that in a supposedly just world, good men suffer bad things, while evil men often triumph?

Boethius, or in his full name Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, was born into an ancient Roman noble family. Among his ancestors he could count Roman emperors, consuls and senators. He was a senator himself, who rose to become a consul, and later a high-ranking official in the court of Theodoric.

Boethius had jumped to the aid of a friend who was falsely accused of treason against Theodoric and for that had been in turn accused of treason himself. His enemies brought out false witnesses against him and he was thrown in jail.

Being a man of learning, Boethius used the time during which he was locked up for productive purposes. As a scholar of ancient philosophy, he used his knowledge to draft a manuscript which in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance would become one of the most influential works of Late Antiquity. It is called “The Consolation of Philosophy”.

It was a dark time in the man’s life, knowing that his days were numbered and he was about to die. This was made even more difficult by the fact that this situation was not of his doing. He had tried to be a good and honest man, but shady and dishonest men brought him down.

An honest man was about to be executed based on false accusations, while crooked men were enjoying riches and privilege. This state of affairs caused him to lose sleep. How could this be in a world supposedly ruled by a just God?

This is the question that many people have asked themselves throughout history and continue asking themselves now. Why do good people get punished and bad people rewarded?
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Live Your Legend: One Moment You Are Here, The Other You Are Gone

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Your place in this world is not eternal. Your clock is ticking away and it has been ticking ever since you were born.

You never know when this clock will stop ticking, when the countdown will reach zero. Have you been living life the way you wanted to live it? When your moment in this world is up, will you leave a legacy?

I originally did not want to write a post like this. One recent event however shocked me, and made me reflect on life.

About two weeks ago, I had returned from Tanzania. It was one of the greatest adventures of my life. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was something that stretched my limits and shattered the mental boundaries that I previously had. I had also visited the Serengeti, which made me see the grandeur of nature and experience the wild in its raw, naked form.

A few days after having returned, I was back in my ways and my usual routine of work and home. Browsing the net, I stumbled across a blog called “Live Your Legend” run by Scott Dinsmore.

Scott had created a blog many years ago, but it didn’t take off right away. For close to four years, he saw almost no outside traffic and got zero revenue from it. However one day, that all changed and his blog really exploded. Suddenly, Scott could live the life he always wanted, travelling the world and challenging himself.

This energized him and he channelled this energy into trying to inspire people to live their life according to their dreams, to live their passion.

I returned to his blog a few days later and found his latest post. It was about him traveling to Tanzania to go climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and see the Serengeti.

It got me excited. It was exactly the same trip I had just returned from. My memories of it were still really fresh and had left a lingering positive feeling in my head. I wrote a long comment on that post and left. I thougth nothing of it.

I decided to check back on Scott’s blog again two days ago. I was hoping to see a new post detailing all of his adventures in Tanzania. My trip had mesmerized me and I am sure it would do the same thing to other people.

What I felt was utter shock when I read the comments people were leaving: “RIP”. Unfortunately, the post that Scott left about his plans to go to Kilimanjaro was to be his last ever. He died in an accident trying to ascend the mountain.

I am still feeling the same shock right now. I never knew the guy and only discovered his blog very recently. Yet there was a sense of connection that I felt. He was the same age as I am. And his death happened at the same place that I had been at just a few days ago.

What made it more personal is that I had made a comment on his post just a few days before this tragedy. All sorts of thoughts started rushing into my mind.

It made me reflect on how fleeting life really is. You are here one day, and the next you are gone. One moment you are full of life and a second later it is all over.
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The Ten Thousand: A Story Of Courage And Determination

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They had been marching for days, and their bodies were tired and hungry. Thousands of miles from home, in a country unfamiliar to them, betrayed by their friends, their commanders murdered, a sense of hopelessness began to descend upon them. Their thoughts were increasingly being haunted by doubt. Were they going to see their families and their home country ever again?

It was dark and it was cold. Many of the men did not have a fire to warm themselves up with. Several of them did not even make it to camp, instead sleeping wherever they could. Deep sleep was out of the question, for the enemy was near and could strike at any time.

However they were not done for. This bleak moment was also the start of an amazing journey that went down in history, their tale a lesson in the strength of character that has been retold countless times ever since. These were the famous Ten Thousand and their story was made immortal in the “Anabasis”.

These men originated from many of the city states and regions of Ancient Greece. They were from Athens and Sparta, Megara, Arcadia, Crete, Thessaly, even Syracuse in Sicily. What brought them together was their skill in warfare and the need to earn a paycheck.

They were mercenaries, but also bound by honor: to their homeland, to their employer and to each other. They were recruited by Cyrus the Younger, a Persian prince who wanted to overthrow his brother Artaxerxes II and become the King of Persia, thus rule over the biggest empire in the world at that time.

When they had gathered together for the first time, they were not disclosed the true purpose of their journey. They were marched deep into Syria and only there were they told their true mission. Only then did they realize that they were to aid Cyrus to overthrow his brother.

They understood this challenge and accepted it. The Greeks continued on and marched into Mesopotamia in order to confront the armies of Artaxerxes. Finally, they met his forces at the Battle of Cunaxa.

The battle did not last long. The Ten Thousand crushed the troops of Artaxerxes while suffering minimal loses themselves, but the victory came to nothing.

Cyrus the Younger was killed in battle as he tried to charge against his brother’s position. Undefeated in battle, but losing their employer, the Greek mercenaries did not know what to do. They offered to make their Persian ally, Ariaeus, the new King, but he refused.

They tried to negotiate with Tissapharnes, the leading satrap of Artaxerxes, but he told them that they needed to lay down their arms. This they refused.

Tissapharnes was a cunning fellow and he managed to win Ariaeus over to his side. The Greeks had no Persian allies left. They were still a force to be reckoned with and the Persians knew that they needed to negotiate.

Deep into the negotiations, the Greek commanders were invited to a feast thrown by Tissapharnes. Trusting that their host would be bound by honor and the sacred rights of the guest, they accepted.

A delegation consisting of most of the leading commanders and their guards came over to the camp of Tissapharnes late in the evening, thinking that they were going to discuss a deal between the two sides. Instead, the leading generals were taken prisoner and later beheaded, while the remainder of the delegation was slaughtered on the spot.

This left the rest of the Ten Thousand without commanders.
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Sharpen Your Wit: Tips On Humor From The Ancient Romans

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Humor is a powerful thing. The person who wields it can change the moods of the people around him just by using a simple word or phrase. Humor can serve as a tremendous weapon, one that can circumvent the outer defenses of others and capture hearts and minds.

It has the ability to speak to people’s inner emotions and provoke a physical reaction. This reaction is called laughter. The Ancients recognized the power that humor has and used it to their advantage.

Catulus, a Roman prosecutor was once challenged by one of his opponents:

Why are you barking, catule?

Because I see a thief!” retorted Catulus.

This exchange became the stuff of legend. It was recounted at gatherings of the Roman elite and the story, even though retold a thousand times over and over again, could always amuse. Roman philosophers, orators and historians would keep on writing about this story for hundreds of years after it had happened.

How does it strike you today? Did you laugh at that joke? Probably not. Did you find the exchange witty? Maybe or maybe not. Some of you might have let out a chuckle, but most of you probably read it in dead silence, not understanding the context. Yet the Ancient Romans found the above story extremely funny!

You either get a joke or you don’t. However since we are going to be discussing humor and what makes things funny, I will try to decompose the jokes in order to further the analysis. The best way to kill a joke is to explain its meaning, but that is precisely what we will have to do in order to arrive at a set of greater principles. 🙂

These principles can then guide you to become funnier yourself and also to be able to use humor in different contexts. For this, we can use the wisdom of the Ancient Romans to guide us in turn.

Those of you who let out a chuckle, might have visualized an image of a dog barking due to the use of the word “bark” and that of a thief due to Catulus replying “because I see a thief“. Even in our days, dogs guard houses against thieves and this is a common association that we have. You let out a chuckle because you probably had a previous association of dogs and thieves and something funny that happened whether due to you owning a dog or maybe seeing something on TV.

Oftentimes humor works on associations. A joke can reawaken a funny memory that people have stored deep in their brains. So people who in their past might have heard a joke about dogs or had experienced a funny event involving puppies put this event into their long-term memory.

Upon hearing the word “barking”, this memory was accessed and associated with the current joke, prompting laughter. This is the associative part of humor. If you can relate a joke to someone else’s experiences, that makes the joke funnier for the other person.

However there is further context for the story that you are missing. The name “Catulus” actually means the word “puppy” in Latin and the word “catule” that was used by the guy taking a swipe at Catulus can be translated as “puppy dog”. The opponent basically used a clever play on words that was meant to belittle Catulus in front of the audience, using his name as the basis.

It backfired, as Catulus, with his quick wit used that jibe and threw it back at him with the reply that he sees a thief. We have to remember that this was done in the context of a trial and Catulus was the prosecutor trying to land a guy suspected of stealing in jail.

In fact, he used that attempt at aggressive humor by his opponent to strengthen his case by coming up with a witty reply. Now can you see why some Romans, especially from the elites, could have found it funny?

Humor and finding something funny is very subjective. Humor can be:

1) situational
A certain joke might be funny in one situation, while not funny in another one. You would not be telling the same joke at a wedding and a funeral for example.

2) personal
Jokes can vary and whether they are funny can heavily depend on the person. One person might find the joke hilarious, while another will not. This can depend on the person’s background, their history, their personal opinions and many other personal factors.

3) cultural
Jokes can also be very cultural. You need to understand the cultural context in them in order to find the humor. A lot of jokes depend on the subtleties of the language they are said in, or might be a reference to some particular book, regional stereotype or incident that you might not always be aware of, if you are not from that particular country or region.

The exchange between Catulus and his opponent is funny because it happened in the context of a trial. So in that situation it left the entire court room laughing. It might not have had the same effect if it had happened while the guys were having a picnic.

There was also a strong personal factor. The incident was discussed by friends of Catulus and fellow lawyers and orators. For them, this was a prime example of wit. The guy on trial probably did not find it that funny. 🙂

The joke has a big cultural element as well, as the primary tactic of the opponent was to use a play on words based on the fact that the word “catulus” means puppy in Latin. This is a very language specific thing. For someone who speaks English or any other language, this association between the name and a puppy dog are not clear.

After this brief introduction into the world of Roman humor and witticism, we will try to dig deeper into what makes things funny and how to be funny. We will use some tips and advice from the Romans themselves in order to do that.

Catulus himself can serve as an inspiration for you. Because of his quick wit and humor skills, he was able to fend off an opponent’s attempt at humor and ridicule and actually strengthen his own case. At the end of this article, you too will have the tools necessary to do what Catulus did in whatever situation you may find yourself.

While the Ancient Romans lived two thousand years ago, their works keep on having a profound effect on our world even today. There are amazing parallels between their world and our world. They were an inquisitive and eloquent people and had the amazing ability to grasp at problems and come up with solutions. Many of their ideas are still as pertinent and applicable today as they were millennia ago.

Actually the Ancient Romans also had a wicked (sometimes very perverted) sense of humor! 🙂 🙂

Just take a look at some of the graffiti that was found in the ruins of Ancient Pompeii:

Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men’s behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!

Restitutus says: “Restituta, take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy privates”.

Satura was here on September 3rd.

I screwed the barmaid.

The one who buggers a fire burns his penis.

Palmyra. The thirst quencher.”

Lesbianus, you defecate and you write, ‘Hello, everyone!’

Secundus likes to screw boys.

Theophilus, don’t perform oral sex on girls against the city wall like a dog.

written three times:
Secundus defecated here
Secundus defecated here
Secundus defecated here

Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here. The women did not know of his presence. Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion.

LOL 🙂

Those silly Romans! 🙂
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The Original PUA: Learn To Pick Up Chicks The Way The Ancient Romans Did

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Way before Mystery, Style and Tyler Durden, even millenia before Don Juan and Casanova, there was Ovid and his “Ars Amatoria”, which could be translated into English as “The Art of Love”. This was the premier textbook of Ancient Rome on how to pick up women.

It’s jam packed with such golden nuggets of wisdom as: “take care that your breath is sweet, and don’t go about reeking like a billy-goat” and “Don’t judge a woman by candle-light, it’s deceptive.

The manual consists of 3 books, the first dealing with how to pick up a chick, the second deals with how to keep a chick, while the third one reverses the tables a bit and gives tips to women on how to seduce guys. Even though the third book is meant as a guide for chicks, it can also give guys a pretty good idea on the different tricks that women use to play with guys.

The 3 book manual proved so popular that Ovid even wrote a sequel to it, titled “Remedia Amoris” or in English translation “The Cure for Love”. The sequel gives strategies and advice on how to fall out of love and avoid being hurt by a broken heart, which can be applied in different types of situations, whether in a divorce or in trying to forget a oneitis.

It turns out that Roman guys were quite horny and Roman women were huge promiscuous teases, so the books addressed a huge hole on the market and proved to be a bestseller. Guys have been hungry for the latest, greatest tools in the arsenal since time immemorial and handwritten copies of “Ars Amatoria” were being snapped up faster than hot cakes.

Finally, guys who didn’t have the muscles and fame of Hercules, the sex appeal of a gladiator, or the riches and power of the Roman Emperors could get their share of the fun. The manual was meant for the average guy on the street and the tips were practical and to the point. 🙂

On a more serious note, the books also caused quite a controversy in Roman circles. While they were popular, they also precipitated a bit of an outrage in the more conservative parts of society. Emperor Augustus was in the midst of a campaign to try to uphold the morals of Roman society and a few years before the publishing of the “Ars Amatoria”, he had promulgated a set of laws meant to strengthen families, outlaw polygamy and punish adultery.

While written in a fun, light-hearted way, Ovid’s books also had an underlying political message and were also meant as a protest against this official uptightedness in the matters of love and family.

This slight poking fun of society can exemplify the internal character of Ovid himself. He came from the upper segments of Roman society and was originally destined for the path of a public official, but instead rebelled a bit and became a poet. He was also quite the ladies man and was married and divorced three times by the time he was thirty.

Written in a poetic style (elegiac couplets), the “Ars Amatoria” (completed by 2 AD) was just one of his works. Ovid was a prolific writer and poet, with the most famous work being called “Metamorphoses”. This is a huge book also written in poetic style and describes the most important stories of Greek and Roman mythology, spanning a long timeline from the creation of the Earth by the Gods to the times of Gaius Julius Caesar.

In 8 AD, Ovid was exiled to Tomis, a city on the Black Sea, which is now the modern city of Constanta in Romania. This was done on the direct orders of Emperor Augustus. According to Ovid, it was due to “a poem and a mistake”. It has been speculated that this poem could have been the “Ars Amatoria”, however the most likely explanation was that he was involved in some political intrigue against the Emperor and that was the main reason why he was exiled.

So let’s examine the timeless wisdom ( 🙂 ) of Ovid (the ultimate Roman PUA) in the matters of picking up chicks. Maybe you too can learn something. 🙂

Ovid compared the art of seducing a woman as being akin to war and listed the different steps that need to be taken: “You, who for the first time are taking up arms beneath the standard of Venus, find out, in the first place, the woman you are fain to love. Your next task will be to bend her to your will; your third to safeguard that your love shall endure. This is my plan, my syllabus. This is the course my chariot will pursue; such is the goal that it will endeavour to attain.

Here are the different phases of seducing a woman (taken from various parts of the manual):
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The Real Gladiator Workout: Train Like A Gladiator

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The Ancient Roman gladiators were some lean, mean killing machines. Fighting was their way of life, the very essence of their being. This gave them an unwavering strength and a tremendous drive and determination. Their courage was legendary. If a gladiator wanted to be the champion, he could not let his focus waver. A single mistake, a slip up, a short lapse in his attention or a bit weaker stamina could end it all for him. His very life depended on being in peak physical condition and the master of his weapons.

Gladiators needed to be driven, not only to become the best they could be, but also to always be better than their opponent. For them, being second best could often mean only one thing: death.

Unfortunately only very few fragments describing their training survive, so it is very hard to reconstruct their training regimen. There was also never just one specific way of training gladiators. Gladiator training varied across time and geographic location. The type of training they received, as well as their diets, also often depended on how rich the owners of their schools were.

The richest and most prestigious schools could employ the very best trainers and physicians and also provide the highest quality food, while the poorer schools, especially in the outlying provinces often suffered from a lack of resources.

This article will focus on the ancient gladiator training techniques and what we can determine about them from the ancient sources. If you are looking for a modern “gladiator” inspired workout, then click here.

Sport specific training
The most important training for any gladiator was the training done with the specific weapons that he would use in the arena. If he wanted to win in a fight, he needed to be extremely proficient in their use.

The main weapons used by the gladiators included different types of swords, knives, shields and special weapons such as the trident for the retiarius, or a spear for some other types of gladiators.

In practice, the gladiators utilized wooden replicas of these weapons. Much of the training was spent sparring with these wooden weapons against other gladiators. Part of the time, wooden weapons that were heavier than the ones the gladiators wielded in actual combat were used. The idea of training with heavier weapons was that once they got used to fighting with these, it was much easier to fight with normal weapons.

During sparring, gladiators were taught the proper way of using the sword. They were taught not to slash at the opponent, but instead to stab him. This was considered the most efficient way of killing the opponent or causing him the most harm.

One of the most important exercises was called the “post” exercise. This was done using wooden weapons of normal or larger size against a large pole stuck in the ground. The exercise was described by Vegetius, a writer from the period of the Late Antiquity, in his book called “De Re Military“:

They gave their recruits round bucklers woven with willows, twice as heavy as those used on real service, and wooden swords double the weight of the common ones. They exercised them with these at the post both morning and afternoon.

The gladiators also spent considerable time practicing fighting without weapons. Things like wrestling were a very important part of training for any gladiator. Not only did they need to be skilled in the use of the sword, but they also needed to be good at hand to hand fighting.

Some descriptions of ancient hand-to-hand fighting survive. For example boxing, wrestling and an ancient version of MMA called pankration were official sports in the Ancient Olympics.

We do not know how the actual gladiator training without weapons proceeded, but it probably involved a lot of drilling of different moves and resembled the instructions for wrestling moves found in one 2nd century AD Greek papyrus or the even more ancient scenes from Ancient Egyptian wall paintings.

General training for physical condition

The historical record for what type of physical training the gladiators did is very patchy. There undoubtedly were a lot of manuals produced during Roman times, however very few survived to the present. So unfortunately we cannot produce a full “real” gladiator workout, but we can only surmise at the types of exercises they did from some of the writings that do survive.

The trainers of Roman gladiators did realize that fight specific training is not enough in order to build the ultimate fighting and killing machine. They knew that in order to develop strength, speed and stamina, the gladiators would need to do a variety of generic exercises in order to do that. Many of these were based on what was developed by the Ancient Greeks.

Different ludi (gladiator schools) organized their training regimens differently, however at the time of the Roman Empire, the most popular organization of training was based on the “tetrad” system developed by the Ancient Greeks. This divided training into 4-day cycles:

  • Day 1 – day of preparation, which consisted of toning and short, high intensity workouts
  • Day 2 – day of high intensity, which consisted of long, strenuous exercise
  • Day 3 – day of rest (short, very light workouts were also done, but it was mostly about resting)
  • Day 4 – day of medium intensity

In his work “Concerning Gymnastics” (one of the earliest surviving works on sports science), Philostratus, a Greek philosopher who lived during the time of the Roman Empire, described the tetrad system like this:

By the tetrad system we mean a cycle of four days, each one of which is devoted to a different activity. The first day prepares the athlete; the second is an all-out trial; the third is relaxation; and the fourth is a medium-hard workout. Regarding exercise of the first day, it is made up of short, intense movements which stir up the athlete and prepare him for the hard workout to follow on the next day. This strenuous day is an all-out test of his potential. The third day employs his energy in a moderate way, while on the day of the medium workout or last day, the athlete himself practices breaking holds and preventing his opponent from breaking away.

Once this cycle was over after Day 4, a new cycle of the tetrad would begin.
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