Reasons why Alexander was great?

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Fiona
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Post by Fiona »

alexkhan2000 wrote: I've always been interested in the stupendous figures of history - ranging from Alexander to Einstein, Caesar to Leonardo da Vinci, Genghis Khan to Thomas Jefferson, Newton to Darwin, Rousseau to Nietzsche, Bach to Beethoven and Wagner, Napoleon to Gandhi, Roosevelt to Bill Gates, etc. They are all fascinating and inspiring in their own individual ways, but there's just something about Alexander that seems to eclipse them all. He somehow seems approachable as a down-to-earth human being as remarkable and colossal of a historical figure as he was.
I do agree that he seems to eclipse them all. It's hard to compare the 'great' from different areas of human endeavour, and it's only monarchs who seem to attract the name of 'the Great', but still he's the outstanding one. I think one reason for that is his eternal youth. And another is his magnificence. He has the 'wow factor'!
alexkhan2000 wrote: Yes, some people say he was lucky, that he had it easy based on what his father Phillip had established by the time he took over, that he had a weak and cowardly enemy in Darius, and that the dominos just seemed to fall in his favor wherever he went. But there's a saying that goes, "Luck comes to those with the prepared mind."
I wouldn't say it was luck, exactly, it's more that I get a sense of everything 'coming together'. Not just the Macedonian army, splendid though it was, but also, to name but a few, having arguably the finest mind ever as your teacher, having a group of friends whose brilliance complemented your own (cf their later achievements), being the product of a culture with one foot, as it were, in the foothills of Olympus and the other foot in sophisticated southern Greece.
alexkhan2000 wrote: I like to think that Alexander's greatness goes beyond his Mozart-like command of his army and the battlefield although that's what he's ultimately known for. Having been educated by one of the greatest intellectuals of history in Aristotle, Alexander also had the intellectual capacity and the love of the arts that puts him in the most refined and rarefied realm amongst the history's greatest conquerors and warriors. He developed a love for medicine and other sciences such as botany, zoology and astronomy under the tutelage of Aristotle. Obviously, philosophy and ethics were a major part of the curriculum as well. He was also an accomplished musician (lyre) and knew the plays of Euripides by heart. A bookworm during the long evenings and nights of his campaigns, he would order to have the latest books from Greece sent over so he could keep his mind sharp and entertained. He had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and he sought to share and spread that knowledge wherever he went. Could that be said for Genghis Khan or Tamerlane? Apparently not...
Shouldn't think so. I like the 'Mozart-like command'! Picturing him conducting, now. I think it's often forgotten how brilliantly clever he must have been.
alexkhan2000 wrote: In the macro-view of world history, Alexander certainly made it possible for Christianity to develop into what it is today - the pillar of Western civilization. Can we imagine Christianity forming under the auspices of the Persian Empire? It's simply impossible to envision a history and the world today without what Alexander achieved in his brief 32 years of existence. As I said, it all has to be viewed in a macro manner.
Now there, to be honest, I think you go too far. Christianity as the pillar of Western civilisation - OK, I can buy that. But it would have spread from Rome out through Europe, with or without Alexander. The Roman Empire gave it the chance to spread, but what gave the Roman Empire its chance, what saved it from being gobbled up by Persia before it got going? It wasn't Alexander, it was Leonidas and Themistocles. If we're talking Western civilisation, the credit has to go to those who fought at Marathon, Salamis, Thermopylae and Plataea. I think Alexander - and ultimately, Hellenism, gave it the chance to spread east, though.
alexkhan2000 wrote: The Hellenized Middle East and western Asia was what made it possible for the emerging Roman Empire to get a foothold there. Without that Hellenized Asia, the Romans, with so many other problems on their other frontiers such as Gaul, Germania, and Carthage, would have been too distracted and their resources too scattered to mount an effective campaign against the Persian Empire. Just by defeating the weakened Macedonia, all of the Middle East and Asia Minor were essentially just turned over to Rome. And, of course, the model of imperial Rome under the likes of Caesar and Augustus was based on the empire that Alexander had established. Alexander's own empire may have crumbled with his death, but the Hellenization that he brought about and the adoption of the remains of his empire by Rome ensured that his legacy was far greater than his mere territorial conquests. Truly, over the long haul, it really was an empire of the mind, a legacy that is felt to this very day...
I do see your point, but I think it's ironic that what we think of as western civilisation, is just that - western. Alexander gave the Romans their foothold in the east, but the legacy didn't long survive the break-up of the Empire into two. And it was the west, not the east, that inherited the legacy. And so we call him, 'Alexander the Great', whereas in the lands he actually conquered, they just call him 'Iskander' - or worse.

Fiona
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Post by alexkhan2000 »

karen wrote:
Ed, I think your posts would make even Alexander blush.
:lol: Yeah, perhaps. But I've read 'em all from Alexander bashers (or with at least a negative slant) like Ernst Badian, Ian Worthington, Peter Green, and A.B. Bosworth to Alexander worshippers like W.W. Tarn, Mary Renault, N.G.L. Hammond, and Guy Maclean Rogers as well as more balanced portraits from the likes of Paul Cartledge, Robin Lane Fox, Ulrich Wilcken, and Frank Holt. I think I'm somewhere between balanced and very positive. :wink: It's interesting that so many people have such different perceptions of him.
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Post by alexkhan2000 »

Fiona wrote:
Now there, to be honest, I think you go too far. Christianity as the pillar of Western civilisation - OK, I can buy that. But it would have spread from Rome out through Europe, with or without Alexander. The Roman Empire gave it the chance to spread, but what gave the Roman Empire its chance, what saved it from being gobbled up by Persia before it got going? It wasn't Alexander, it was Leonidas and Themistocles. If we're talking Western civilisation, the credit has to go to those who fought at Marathon, Salamis, Thermopylae and Plataea. I think Alexander - and ultimately, Hellenism, gave it the chance to spread east, though.

Fiona
Hi Fiona,

My point was simply that the Hellenized Middle East (including present-day Israel) that the Romans took over was due to Romans taking over Macedonia in 150BC or so. It made it much easier for Rome to gain control of the Middle East in the later years. If the Middle East was still under Persian control at that time, who knows how history would have unfolded?

I agree that the West was "saved" initially by the Greeks repelling the invasions of Darius I and Xerxes, but that had nothing to do with what was going on in the Middle East. Alexander conquered that area some 150 years later and put it under Western domain, so to speak, through which Christianity eventually spread. That's all I was getting at.

Please note that I'm speaking in very broad macro terms - chunks of several hundred years of history or more. Christianity didn't become an official religion of the Roman Empire until 300AD under Constatine, some 600 years after Alexander's time. Also, the Roman Empire (not the Roman Republic) built in the first century upon the foundation set by Julius Caesar and Augustus was modeled after the Alexandrian empire. It was the Romans who christened Alexander "The Great".

Ed
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Post by Semiramis »

Fiona wrote:Now there, to be honest, I think you go too far. Christianity as the pillar of Western civilisation - OK, I can buy that. But it would have spread from Rome out through Europe, with or without Alexander. The Roman Empire gave it the chance to spread, but what gave the Roman Empire its chance, what saved it from being gobbled up by Persia before it got going? It wasn't Alexander, it was Leonidas and Themistocles. If we're talking Western civilisation, the credit has to go to those who fought at Marathon, Salamis, Thermopylae and Plataea. I think Alexander - and ultimately, Hellenism, gave it the chance to spread east, though.
Fiona wrote:I do see your point, but I think it's ironic that what we think of as western civilisation, is just that - western. Alexander gave the Romans their foothold in the east, but the legacy didn't long survive the break-up of the Empire into two. And it was the west, not the east, that inherited the legacy. And so we call him, 'Alexander the Great', whereas in the lands he actually conquered, they just call him 'Iskander' - or worse.
Hi Fiona,

The two sentences highlighted in bold seem contradictory. My first thought was, if Alexander Hellenized the parts that belonged to the eastern Roman empire, is that not his legacy?

To me, Alexander’s most important legacy was making it easier for the Mediterranean cultures of his time to interact with each other – something that was already well under way under the Persian empire. This interaction is perhaps best signified by Alexandria in Egypt – the multiethnic successor of the cosmopolitan Babylon as a thriving cultural center of the Mediterranean lands and West Asia. I’m also in agreement with Oliver Stone about things like the Hellenized Buddha statues found in the Indo-Greek kingdoms in India (shown during the opening credits of the movie). Nice iconographic representation of how much Alexander sped up the interaction between various cultures separated by distance.

Even Alexander’s thirst for glory may have been sated if he knew of the innumerable myths and legends about him that span the globe. :) I found Michael Wood’s ‘In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great’ a nice primer for showing the truly global reach of Alexander. He finds Alexander myths just about everywhere as he travels the route Alexander conquers –16 different countries in total.

To me, it seems that Alexander’s reputation is not uniform and can’t be split according to ‘east’ and ‘west’ lines. Romans dubbed him ‘the Great’. And you are indeed correct about Zoroastrian tradition. They don’t just call him Iskander. I believe the full term is ‘Iskander the Accursed’. :) Jewish tradition in more favourable towards Alexander and has him travelling to Jerusalem and allowing the Jews to keep the privileges granted to them by the Persian Kings. The Biblical Book of Daniel however, paints him as a beast devouring the world – fourth in line after the Kings of Babylonia-Assyria, Medea and Persia. The Muslim Quran refers to him as a prophet bringing civilization to the far corners of the earth. So, quite the mixed bag there. :)
alexkhan2000 wrote:In the macro-view of world history, Alexander certainly made it possible for Christianity to develop into what it is today - the pillar of Western civilization. Can we imagine Christianity forming under the auspices of the Persian Empire? It's simply impossible to envision a history and the world today without what Alexander achieved in his brief 32 years of existence. As I said, it all has to be viewed in a macro manner.
alexkhan2000,

Why not? :)

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Post by aleksandros »

Can we imagine Christianity forming under the auspices of the Persian Empire?
Of course not. There couldn't have ever been Christianity without stoicism. And stoicism couldn't have evolved and spread to middle east without centers like Antioch and Alexandria via koine Greek and of course Christianity couldn't have spread to the greek-speaking world that was in between middle east and Rome, and subsequently couldn't have spread to western Europe.
of course i am not saying that Alexander was the only reason that Christianity was spread to the Roman Empire. I believe that if it wasnt for Theodosius today most of Europe might still be pagan. And ofcourse there wouldnt have been Islam, since Islam comes from Christianity and Judaism.

We can make up countless scenarios with the 'ifs'.
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Post by Paralus »

alexanthros wrote:
Can we imagine Christianity forming under the auspices of the Persian Empire?
Of course not. There couldn't have ever been Christianity without stoicism.
That rather misses the point. There would be no Christianity without Judaism. There would be no Judaism as we know it minus Cyrus the Great.
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Wicked men, you sin against your fathers, who conquered the whole world under Philip and Alexander.

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Semiramis wrote:
alexkhan2000,

Why not? :)
Sure we can imagine it. :wink: But I have a hard time imagining how the Persian soldiers would have executed Jesus and Tehran now being the center of Christianity.
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Paralus wrote:
There would be no Judaism as we know it minus Cyrus the Great.
Hi Paralus,

My knowledge of Cyrus the Great is limited. He's definitely on my list for further research. What kind of an effect did he have on Judaism?

Thanks,

Ed
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Semiramis wrote:
Fiona wrote:Now there, to be honest, I think you go too far. Christianity as the pillar of Western civilisation - OK, I can buy that. But it would have spread from Rome out through Europe, with or without Alexander. The Roman Empire gave it the chance to spread, but what gave the Roman Empire its chance, what saved it from being gobbled up by Persia before it got going? It wasn't Alexander, it was Leonidas and Themistocles. If we're talking Western civilisation, the credit has to go to those who fought at Marathon, Salamis, Thermopylae and Plataea. I think Alexander - and ultimately, Hellenism, gave it the chance to spread east, though.
Fiona wrote:I do see your point, but I think it's ironic that what we think of as western civilisation, is just that - western. Alexander gave the Romans their foothold in the east, but the legacy didn't long survive the break-up of the Empire into two. And it was the west, not the east, that inherited the legacy. And so we call him, 'Alexander the Great', whereas in the lands he actually conquered, they just call him 'Iskander' - or worse.
Hi Fiona,

The two sentences highlighted in bold seem contradictory. My first thought was, if Alexander Hellenized the parts that belonged to the eastern Roman empire, is that not his legacy?
Oops, sorry, that isn't very coherent, is it? I'm posting a bit earlier tonight in the hope that, if I'm not too sleepy, I might make more sense. In the first one, I meant that I was agreeing with Alexkhan (sp?) that Alexander gave the Roman Empire the chance to spread east, even though I was disagreeing with him(?) that Alexander made a difference to the spread of Christianity through those parts of the Roman Empire where Christianity survived long enough to become that 'pillar of western civilisation' we were talking about, ie western Europe.

In the second one, I meant that Alexander's legacy in the east didn't long survive the break-up of the Roman Empire into two. But I think I said that because my mind was still working on the Christianity/western civilisation thing, and now that I've read what you have to say, I think I'd like to reconsider that. There's far more to it than just the western civilisation thing, and I like very much your point about the Mediterranean cuktures interacting with one another. He opened up the world, and if the eastern empire developed differently to the western, developed in its own way, that doesn't mean there was nothing Greek about it. In fact, now I come to think about it, the Seleucids alone guarantee that there was.
Semiramis wrote: To me, Alexander’s most important legacy was making it easier for the Mediterranean cultures of his time to interact with each other – something that was already well under way under the Persian empire. This interaction is perhaps best signified by Alexandria in Egypt – the multiethnic successor of the cosmopolitan Babylon as a thriving cultural center of the Mediterranean lands and West Asia. I’m also in agreement with Oliver Stone about things like the Hellenized Buddha statues found in the Indo-Greek kingdoms in India (shown during the opening credits of the movie). Nice iconographic representation of how much Alexander sped up the interaction between various cultures separated by distance.
You're right. Alexandria was - and still is - such an important part of his legacy. I think he'd have liked to see how multiethnic it's always been. And the artistic legacy, yes, too. All the images in the opening credits are so good, aren't they?
Semiramis wrote: Even Alexander’s thirst for glory may have been sated if he knew of the innumerable myths and legends about him that span the globe. :) I found Michael Wood’s ‘In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great’ a nice primer for showing the truly global reach of Alexander. He finds Alexander myths just about everywhere as he travels the route Alexander conquers –16 different countries in total.
I liked the one about the talking tree.

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Post by Fiona »

alexkhan2000 wrote:

But I've read 'em all from Alexander bashers (or with at least a negative slant) like Ernst Badian, Ian Worthington, Peter Green, and A.B. Bosworth to Alexander worshippers like W.W. Tarn, Mary Renault, N.G.L. Hammond, and Guy Maclean Rogers as well as more balanced portraits from the likes of Paul Cartledge, Robin Lane Fox, Ulrich Wilcken, and Frank Holt. I think I'm somewhere between balanced and very positive. :wink: It's interesting that so many people have such different perceptions of him.
You've read a lot, Ed - but you don't mention the ancient sources. Have you read those?
It's amazing how many different perceptions there are of him. One for each student of Alexander, as someone much cleverer than I am, once said very much better.

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Fiona wrote:
You've read a lot, Ed - but you don't mention the ancient sources. Have you read those?
It's amazing how many different perceptions there are of him. One for each student of Alexander, as someone much cleverer than I am, once said very much better.

Fiona
I've skipped around 'The History of Alexander' by Curitus and 'The Campaigns of Alexander' by Arrian. I've read Plutarch's 'The Life of Alexander'. But I seem to gravitate towards the modern scholars as I'm just interested in their perceptions of Alexander and what conclusions they come to. I need to sit down one of these days and read both (Arrian and Curtius) slowly from front to end. I just got myself that expensive 'Brill's Companion' book that's the subject of a new thread. I've read a few articles in it so far and am enjoying it. So many Alexander books and so little time! :)

Ed
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Post by Semiramis »

alexanthros wrote:
Can we imagine Christianity forming under the auspices of the Persian Empire?
Of course not. There couldn't have ever been Christianity without stoicism. And stoicism couldn't have evolved and spread to middle east without centers like Antioch and Alexandria via koine Greek and of course Christianity couldn't have spread to the greek-speaking world that was in between middle east and Rome, and subsequently couldn't have spread to western Europe.
of course i am not saying that Alexander was the only reason that Christianity was spread to the Roman Empire. I believe that if it wasnt for Theodosius today most of Europe might still be pagan. And ofcourse there wouldnt have been Islam, since Islam comes from Christianity and Judaism.

We can make up countless scenarios with the 'ifs'.
Hi alexanthros,

I see your point. But as you say it's fun to ponder over these things.

The Greeks on the coast of Asia were "gobbled up" by the Persian empire more than once. And for extended periods of time. They still produced some pretty significant philosophers (em… major understatement, sorry). One can't deny these philosophers' contribution on later works. I guess what's special about Alexandria or Antioch compared to Greek cities like Athens or Sparta was how cosmopolitan they were. Cosmopolitanism wasn't something that was new to the Persian empire. They were at that party before Alexander was. :) Would it be too blasphemous to suggest that some of the earlier Asian Greek philosophers even benefited from their interactions with other Persian subjects such as Zoroastrians or Chaldeans? :)

How do you feel about the influence of Mithraism on Christianity? No doubt there would be no Mithraism in the Roman empire without the Persian empire. I agree with you totally that there would've been no Islam without Christianity and Judaism. And with Paralus that there would be no Christianity without Judaism. How about the influence of Zoroastrianism on other religions? The commonalities between Zoroaster’s teachings and the three Abrahamic faiths are quite striking.
alexkhan2000 wrote:Sure we can imagine it. But I have a hard time imagining how the Persian soldiers would have executed Jesus and Tehran now being the center of Christianity.
Hello Ed,

I’m sure the Persian soldiers would’ve found a way to execute anyone who was challenging the status quo too much, just the way the Romans did. Empires - whether we now classify them as ‘eastern’ or ‘western’ - always have a few things in common. ;)

Christianity has spread so far and wide and practiced in diverse ways, I can’t imagine it to be too out of place anywhere. They only just celebrated the millennium in Ethiopia! :) Neither can I come up with any reasons why the people of Tehran would've been uniquely resistant to Christianity our "what if" world. After all, Iran is the land that gave rise to the monotheistic Zoroastrianism centuries before Christianity had evolved.

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Post by Semiramis »

Fiona wrote:In the first one, I meant that I was agreeing with Alexkhan (sp?) that Alexander gave the Roman Empire the chance to spread east, even though I was disagreeing with him(?) that Alexander made a difference to the spread of Christianity through those parts of the Roman Empire where Christianity survived long enough to become that 'pillar of western civilisation' we were talking about, ie western Europe.
Hi Fiona,

I think we're pretty much in complete agreement here. In the Hellenistic world, Alexander's fingerprints are everywhere. However, reagarding the spread of Christianity - there are too many developments long after Alexander that were pivotal. From Constantine's conversion to the Muslim empires to European colonialism.
Fiona wrote:He opened up the world, and if the eastern empire developed differently to the western, developed in its own way, that doesn't mean there was nothing Greek about it. In fact, now I come to think about it, the Seleucids alone guarantee that there was.
Agreed again. After all, the Eastern Roman Empire was Greek-speaking and referred to as the "Empire of the Greeks" as by the people in the Western Roman empire. To themselves and others of course they were just plain "Roman empire" and Constantinople "New Rome". :) I don't know who to blame for all the Greek-ness other than Alexander, seeing that the Greeks themselves weren't even keen on starting a war with Persia themselves. :)

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Post by aleksandros »

Semiramis wrote:
alexanthros wrote:
Can we imagine Christianity forming under the auspices of the Persian Empire?
Of course not. There couldn't have ever been Christianity without stoicism. And stoicism couldn't have evolved and spread to middle east without centers like Antioch and Alexandria via koine Greek and of course Christianity couldn't have spread to the greek-speaking world that was in between middle east and Rome, and subsequently couldn't have spread to western Europe.
of course i am not saying that Alexander was the only reason that Christianity was spread to the Roman Empire. I believe that if it wasnt for Theodosius today most of Europe might still be pagan. And ofcourse there wouldnt have been Islam, since Islam comes from Christianity and Judaism.

We can make up countless scenarios with the 'ifs'.
Hi alexanthros,

I see your point. But as you say it's fun to ponder over these things.

The Greeks on the coast of Asia were "gobbled up" by the Persian empire more than once. And for extended periods of time. They still produced some pretty significant philosophers (em… major understatement, sorry). One can't deny these philosophers' contribution on later works. I guess what's special about Alexandria or Antioch compared to Greek cities like Athens or Sparta was how cosmopolitan they were. Cosmopolitanism wasn't something that was new to the Persian empire. They were at that party before Alexander was. :) Would it be too blasphemous to suggest that some of the earlier Asian Greek philosophers even benefited from their interactions with other Persian subjects such as Zoroastrians or Chaldeans? :)

How do you feel about the influence of Mithraism on Christianity? No doubt there would be no Mithraism in the Roman empire without the Persian empire. I agree with you totally that there would've been no Islam without Christianity and Judaism. And with Paralus that there would be no Christianity without Judaism. How about the influence of Zoroastrianism on other religions? The commonalities between Zoroaster’s teachings and the three Abrahamic faiths are quite striking.
Not blasphemous, rather unhistorical.

Like i said a procedure is influenced by countless actions and effects that predeceded it.
By saying that without stoicism and judaism christianity couldnt have evolved, i dont say that these were the only causes of christianity evolution. If we think about it every single act of the past has its impact on everything that happens at the present and future.
So dont ask me if mithraism had an effect on christianity cause the answer is OFC. And i am sure that you will agree that without Alexander mithraism might have never evovlved in Europe. And ofcource Alexander was not the only parameter on that thing either.

I am going to stress again that the main reason of Christianity's spread is Theodosius.
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Semiramis wrote:
Hello Ed,

I’m sure the Persian soldiers would’ve found a way to execute anyone who was challenging the status quo too much, just the way the Romans did. Empires - whether we now classify them as ‘eastern’ or ‘western’ - always have a few things in common. ;)

Christianity has spread so far and wide and practiced in diverse ways, I can’t imagine it to be too out of place anywhere. They only just celebrated the millennium in Ethiopia! :) Neither can I come up with any reasons why the people of Tehran would've been uniquely resistant to Christianity our "what if" world. After all, Iran is the land that gave rise to the monotheistic Zoroastrianism centuries before Christianity had evolved.

Take care
I'm just curious what symbol would have been left behind if the Persian Empire had executed Jesus. It wouldn't have been a cross as Persians didn't use crucifixion for execution. I'm just stating that the world would be mighty different and weird-looking to us today if Jesus was born under the rule of the Persian Empire instead of the Roman. It's just a weird thing to imagine. Perhaps some other religion could have sprang up in the West.

The truth is that there was a clear delineation between the West (Europe) and the East (Asia) at that time and Alexander represented the West. On a macro scale, Alexander's destruction and conquest of the Persian Empire cannot be overestimated. For better or worse, this acheivement set the tone and structure of the West and East that lasts to this very day. I'm quite sure that the world we see today is not what Alexander envisioned but we can blame those who came afterwards for that! :wink:

Ed
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