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Iphigenia.

From Myths and Legends of all nations
by Logan Marshall
Age suitability 8 Plus.

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King Agamemnon sat in his tent at Aulis, where the army of the Greeks was gathered together, being about to sail against the great city of Troy. And it was now past midnight; but the king slept not, for he was careful and troubled about many things. And he had a lamp before him and in his hand a tablet of pine wood, whereon he wrote. But he seemed not to remain in the same mind about that which he wrote; for now he would blot out the letters, and then would write them again; and now he fastened the seal upon the tablet and then brake it. And as he did this he wept and was like to a man distracted. But after a while he called to an old man, his attendant (the man had been given in time past by Tyndareus to his daughter, Queen Clytæmnestra) and said: "Old man, thou knowest how Calchas the soothsayer bade me offer for a sacrifice to Artemis, who is goddess of this place, my daughter Iphigenia, saying that so only should the army have a prosperous voyage from this place to Troy, and should take the city and destroy it; and how when I heard these words I bade Talthybius the herald go throughout the army and bid them depart, every man to his own country, for that I would not do this thing; and how my brother, King Menelaüs, persuaded me so that I consented to it. Now, therefore, hearken to this, for what I am about to tell thee three men only know, namely, Calchas the soothsayer, and Menelaüs, and Ulysses, king of Ithaca. I wrote a letter to my wife the queen, that she should send her daughter to this place, that she might be married to King Achilles; and I magnified the man to her, saying that he would in no wise sail with us unless I would give him my daughter in marriage. But now I have changed my purpose and have written another letter after this fashion, as I will now set forth to thee: '_Daughter of Leda, send not thy child to the land of Eubœa, for I will give her in marriage at another time._'"



"Aye," said the old man, "but how wilt thou deal with King Achilles? Will he not be wroth, hearing that he hath been cheated of his wife?" "Not so," answered the king, "for we have indeed used his name, but he knoweth nothing of this marriage. And now make haste. Sit not thou down by any fountain in the woods, and suffer not thine eyes to sleep. And beware lest the chariot bearing the queen and her daughter pass thee where the roads divide. And see that thou keep the seal upon this letter unbroken." So the old man departed with the letter. But scarcely had he left the tent when King Menelaüs spied him and laid hands on him, taking the letter and breaking the seal. And the old man cried out: "Help, my lord; here is one hath taken thy letter!" Then King Agamemnon came forth from his tent, saying, "What meaneth this uproar and disputing that I hear?" And Menelaüs answered, "Seest thou this letter that I hold in my hand?" "I see it: it is mine. Give it to me." "I give it not till I have read that which is written therein to all the army of the Greeks." "Where didst thou find it?" "I found it while I waited for thy daughter till she should come to the camp." "What hast thou to do with that? May I not rule my own household?" Then Menelaüs reproached his brother because he did not continue in one mind. "For first," he said, "before thou wast chosen captain of the host, thou wast all things to all men, greeting every man courteously, and taking him by the hand, and talking with him, and leaving thy doors open to any that would enter; but afterwards, being now chosen, thou wast haughty and hard of access. And next, when this trouble came upon the army, and thou wast sore afraid lest thou shouldst lose thy office and so miss renown, didst thou not hearken to Calchas the soothsayer, and promise thy daughter for sacrifice, and send for her to the camp, making pretence of giving her in marriage to Achilles? And now thou art gone back from thy word. Surely this is an evil day for Greece, that is troubled because thou wantest wisdom."



Then answered King Agamemnon: "What is thy quarrel with me? Why blamest thou me if thou couldst not rule thy wife? And now to win back this woman, because forsooth she is fair, thou castest aside both reason and honor. And I, if I had an ill purpose and now have changed it for that which is wiser, dost thou charge me with folly? Let them that sware the oath to Tyndareus go with thee on this errand. Why should I slay my child and work for myself sorrow and remorse without end that thou mayest have vengeance for thy wicked wife?" Then Menelaüs turned away in a rage, crying, "Betray me if thou wilt. I will betake myself to other counsels and other friends." But even as he spake there came a messenger, saying, "King Agamemnon, I am come, as thou badest me, with thy daughter Iphigenia. Also her mother, Queen Clytæmnestra, is come, bringing with her her little son Orestes. And now they are resting themselves and their horses by the side of a spring, for indeed the way is long and weary. And all the army is gathered about them to see them and greet them. And men question much wherefore they are come, saying. 'Doth the king make a marriage for his daughter; or hath he sent for her, desiring to see her?' But I know thy purpose, my lord; wherefore we will dance and shout and make merry, for this is a happy day for the maiden." But the King Agamemnon was sore dismayed when he knew that the queen was come, and spake to himself, "Now what shall I say to my wife? For that she is rightly come to the marriage of her daughter, who can deny? But what will she say when she knoweth my purpose? And of the maiden, what shall I say? Unhappy maiden whose bridegroom shall be death! For she will cry to me, 'Wilt thou kill me, my father?' And the little Orestes will wail, not knowing what he doeth, seeing he is but a babe. Cursed be Paris, who hath wrought this woe!"



And now King Menelaüs came back, saying that it repented him of what he had said, "For why should thy child die for me? What hath she to do with Helen? Let the army be scattered, so that this wrong be not done." Then said King Agamemnon, "But how shall I escape from this strait? For the whole host will compel me to this deed?" "Not so," said King Menelaüs, "if thou wilt send back the maiden to Argos." "But what shall that profit," said the king; "for Calchas will cause the matter to be known, or Ulysses, saying that I have failed of my promise; and if I fly to Argos, they will come and destroy my city and lay waste my land. Woe is me! in what a strait am I set! But take thou care, my brother, that Clytæmnestra hear nothing of these things." And when he had ended speaking, the queen herself came unto the tent, riding in a chariot, having her daughter by her side. And she bade one of the attendants take out with care the caskets which she had brought for her daughter, and bade others help her daughter to alight and herself also, and to a fourth she said that he should take the young Orestes. Then Iphigenia greeted her father, saying, "Thou hast done well to send for me, my father."



"'Tis true and yet not true, my child." "Thou lookest not well pleased to see me, my father." "He that is a king and commandeth a host hath many cares." "Put away thy cares awhile and give thyself to me." "I am glad beyond measure to see thee." "Glad art thou? Then why dost thou weep?" "I weep because thou must be long time absent from me." "Perish all these fightings and troubles!" "They will cause many to perish, and me most miserably of all." "Art thou going a journey from me, my father?" "Aye, and thou also hast a journey to make." "Must I make it alone, or with my mother?" "Alone; neither father nor mother may be with thee." "Sendest thou me to dwell elsewhere?" "Hold thy peace: such things are not for maidens to inquire." "Well, my father, order matters with the Phrygians and then make haste to return." "I must first make a sacrifice to the gods." "'Tis well. The gods should have due honor." "Aye, and thou wilt stand close to the altar." "Shall I lead the dances, my father?" "O my child, how I envy thee, that thou knowest naught! And now go into the tent; but first kiss me and give me thy hand, for thou shalt be parted from thy father for many days." And when she was gone within, he cried, "O fair bosom and very lovely cheeks and yellow hair of my child! O city of Priam, what woe thou bringest on me! But I must say no more."



Then he turned to the queen and excused himself that he wept when he should rather have rejoiced for the marriage of his daughter. And when the queen would know of the estate of the bridegroom he told her that his name was Achilles and that he was the son of Peleus by his wife Thetis, the daughter of Nereus of the sea, and that he dwelt in Phthia. And when she inquired of the time of the marriage, he said that it should be in the same moon, on the first lucky day; and as to the place, that it must be where the bridegroom was sojourning, that is to say, in the camp. "And I," said the king, "will give the maiden to her husband." "But where," answered the queen, "is it your pleasure that I should be?" "Thou must return to Argos and care for the maidens there." "Sayest thou that I must return? Who then will hold up the torch for the bride?" "I will do that which is needful. For it is not seemly that thou shouldst be present where the whole army is gathered together." "Aye, but it is seemly that a mother should give her daughter in marriage." "But the maidens at home should not be left alone." "They are well kept in their chambers." "Be persuaded, lady." "Not so: thou shalt order that which is without the house, but I that which is within." But now came Achilles to tell the king that the army was growing impatient, saying that unless they might sail speedily to Troy they would return each man to his home. And when the queen heard his name--for he had said to the attendant, "Tell thy master that Achilles, the son of Peleus, would speak with him"--she came forth from the tent and greeted him and bade him give her his right hand. And when the young man was ashamed (for it was not counted a seemly thing that men should speak with women) she said:



"But why art thou ashamed, seeing that thou art about to marry my daughter?" And he answered, "What sayest thou, lady? I cannot speak for wonder at thy words." "Often men are ashamed when they see new friends and the talk is of marriage." "But, lady, I never was suitor for thy daughter. Nor have the sons of Atreus said aught to me of the matter." But the queen was beyond measure astonished, and cried, "Now this is shameful indeed, that I should seek a bridegroom for my daughter in such fashion." But when Achilles would have departed, to inquire of the king what this thing might mean, the old man that had at the first carried the letter came forth and bade him stay. And when he had assurance that he should receive no harm for what he should tell them, he unfolded the whole matter. And when the queen had heard it, she cried to Achilles, "O son of Thetis of the sea! help me now in this strait and help this maiden that hath been called thy bride, though this indeed be false. 'Twill be a shame to thee if such wrong be done under thy name; for it is thy name that hath undone us. Nor have I any altar to which I may flee, nor any friend but thee only in this army." Then Achilles made answer, "Lady, I learnt from Chiron, who was the most righteous of men, to be true and honest. And if the sons of Atreus govern according to right, I obey them; and if not, not. Know, then, that thy daughter, seeing that she hath been given, though but in word only, to me, shall not be slain by her father. For if she so die, then shall my name be brought to great dishonor, seeing that through it thou hast been persuaded to come with her to this place. This sword shall see right soon whether any one will dare to take this maiden from me."



And now King Agamemnon came forth, saying that all things were ready for the marriage, and that they waited for the maiden, not knowing that the whole matter had been revealed to the queen. Then she said: "Tell me now, dost thou purpose to slay thy daughter and mine?" And when he was silent, not knowing, indeed, what to say, she reproached him with many words, that she had been a loving and faithful wife to him, for which he made her an ill recompense slaying her child. And when she had made an end of speaking, the maiden came forth from the tent, holding the young child Orestes in her arms, and cast herself upon her knees before her father and besought him, saying, "I would, my father, that I had the voice of Orpheus, who made even the rocks to follow him, that I might persuade thee; but now all that I have I give, even these tears. O my father, I am thy child; slay me not before my time. This light is sweet to look upon. Drive me not from it to the land of darkness. I was the first to call thee father; and the first to whom thou didst say 'my child.' And thou wouldst say to me, 'Some day, my child, I shall see thee a happy wife in the home of a good husband.' And I would answer, 'And I will receive thee with all love when thou art old, and pay thee back for all the benefits thou hast done unto me.' This I indeed remember, but thou forgettest; for thou art ready to slay me. Do it not, I beseech thee, by Pelops thy grandsire, and Atreus thy father, and this my mother, who travailed in childbirth of me and now travaileth again in her sorrow. And thou, O my brother, though thou art but a babe, help me. Weep with me; beseech thy father that he slay not thy sister. O my father, though he be silent, yet, indeed, he beseecheth thee. For his sake, therefore, yea, and for mine own, have pity upon me and slay me not."



But the king was sore distracted, knowing not what he should say or do, for a terrible necessity was upon him, seeing that the army could not make their journey to Troy unless this deed should first be done. And while he doubted came Achilles, saying that there was a horrible tumult in the camp, the men crying out that the maiden must be sacrificed, and that when he would have stayed them from their purpose, the people had stoned him with stones, and that his own Myrmidons helped him not, but rather were the first to assail him. Nevertheless, he said that he would fight for the maiden, even to the utmost, and that there were faithful men who would stand with him and help him. But when the maiden heard these words, she stood forth and said, "Hearken to me, my mother. Be not wroth with my father, for we cannot fight against fate. Also we must take thought that this young man suffer not, for his help will avail naught and he himself will perish. Therefore I am resolved to die; for all Greece looketh to me; for without me the ships cannot make their voyage, nor the city of Troy be taken. Thou didst bear me, my mother, not for thyself only, but for this whole people. Wherefore I will give myself for them. Offer me for an offering, and let the Greeks take the city of Troy, for this shall be my memorial forever." Then said Achilles, "Lady, I should count myself most happy if the gods would grant thee to be my wife. For I love thee well when I see how noble thou art. And if thou wilt, I will carry thee to my home. And I doubt not that I shall save thee, though all the men of Greece be against me." But the maiden answered, "What I say, I say with full purpose. Nor will I that any man should die for me, but rather will I save this land of Greece." And Achilles said, "If this be thy will, lady, I cannot say nay, for it is a noble thing that thou doest."



Nor was the maiden turned from her purpose though her mother besought her with many tears. So they that were appointed led her to the grove of Artemis, where there was built an altar, and the whole army of the Greeks gathered about it. But when the king saw her going to her death he covered his face with his mantle; but she stood by him, and said, "I give my body with a willing heart to die for my country and for the whole land of Greece. I pray the gods that ye may prosper and win the victory in this war and come back safe to your homes. And now let no man touch me, for I will die with a good heart." And all men marveled to see the maiden of what a good courage she was. And all the army stood regarding the maiden and the priest and the altar. Then there befell a marvelous thing. For suddenly the maiden was not there. Whither she had gone no one knew; but in her stead there lay gasping a great hind, and all the altar was red with the blood thereof. And Calchas said, "See ye this, men of Greece, how the goddess hath provided this offering in the place of the maiden, for she would not that her altar should be defiled with innocent blood. Be of good courage, therefore, and depart every man to his ship, for this day ye shall sail across the sea to the land of Troy." Then the goddess carried away the maiden to the land of the Taurians, where she had a temple and an altar. Now on this altar the king of the land was wont to sacrifice any stranger, being Greek by nation, who was driven by stress of weather to the place, for none went thither willingly. And the name of the king was Thoas, which signifieth in the Greek tongue, "swift of foot."



Now when the maiden had been there many years she dreamed a dream. And in the dream she seemed to have departed from the land of the Taurians and to dwell in the city of Argos, wherein she had been born. And as she slept in the women's chamber there befell a great earthquake, and cast to the ground the palace of her fathers, so that there was left one pillar only which stood upright. And as she looked on this pillar, yellow hair seemed to grow upon it as the hair of a man, and it spake with a man's voice. And she did to it as she was wont to do to the strangers that were sacrificed upon the altar, purifying it with water and weeping the while. And the interpretation of the dream she judged to be that her brother Orestes was dead, for that male children are the pillars of a house, and that she only was left to the house of her father. Now it chanced that at this same time Orestes, with Pylades that was his friend, came in a ship to the land of the Taurians. And the cause of his coming was this. After that he had slain his mother, taking vengeance for the death of King Agamemnon his father, the Furies pursued him. Then Apollo, who had commanded him to do this deed, bade him go to the land of Athens that he might be judged. And when he had been judged and loosed, yet the Furies left him not. Wherefore Apollo commanded that he should sail for the land of the Taurians and carry thence the image of Artemis and bring it to the land of the Athenians, and that after this he should have rest.



Now when the two were come to the place, they saw the altar that it was red with the blood of them that had been slain thereon. And Orestes doubted how they might accomplish the things for the which he was come, for the walls of the temple were high and the gates not easy to be broken through. Therefore he would have fled to the ship, but Pylades consented not, seeing that they were not wont to go back from that to which they had set their hand, but counseled that they should hide themselves during the day in a cave that was hard by the seashore, not near to the ship, lest search should be made for them, and that by night they should creep into the temple by a space that there was between the pillars, and carry off the image, and so depart. So they hid themselves in a cavern by the sea. But it chanced that certain herdsmen were feeding their oxen in pastures hard by the shore; one of these, coming near to the cavern, spied the young men as they sat therein, and stealing back to his fellows, said, "See ye not them that sit yonder. Surely they are gods;" for they were exceeding tall and fair to look upon. And some began to pray to them, thinking that they might be the Twin Brethren or of the sons of Nereus. But another laughed and said, "Not so; these are shipwrecked men who hide themselves, knowing that it is our custom to sacrifice strangers to our gods." To him the others gave consent and said that they should take the men prisoners that they might be sacrificed to the gods.



But while they delayed, Orestes ran forth from the cave, for the madness was come upon him, crying out, "Pylades, seest thou not that dragon from hell; and that who would kill me with the serpents of her mouth, and this again that breatheth out fire, holding my mother in her arms to cast her upon me?" And first he bellowed as a bull and then howled as a dog, for the Furies, he said, did so. But the herdsmen, when they saw this, gathered together in great fear and sat down. But when Orestes drew his sword and leapt, as a lion might leap, into the midst of the herd, slaying the beasts (for he thought in his madness that he was contending with the Furies), then the herdsmen, blowing on shells, called to the people of the land; for they feared the young men, so strong they seemed and valiant. And when no small number was gathered together, they began to cast stones and javelins at the two. And now the madness of Orestes began to abate, and Pylades tended him carefully, wiping away the foam from his mouth and holding his garments before him that he should not be wounded by the stones. But when Orestes came to himself and beheld in what straits they were, he groaned aloud and cried, "We must die, O Pylades, only let us die as befitteth brave men. Draw thy sword and follow me." And the people of the land dared not to stand before them; yet while some fled, others would cast stones at them. For all that no man wounded them. But at the last, coming about them with a great multitude, they smote the swords out of their hands with stones, and so bound them and took them to King Thoas. And the king commanded that they should be taken to the temple, that the priestess might deal with them according to the custom of the place.



So they brought the young men bound to the temple. Now the name of the one they knew, for they had heard his companion call to him, but the name of the other they knew not. And when Iphigenia saw them, she bade the people loose their bonds, for that being holy to the goddess they were free. And then--for she took the two for brothers--she asked them, saying, "Who is your mother and your father and your sister, if a sister you have? She will be bereaved of noble brothers this day. And whence come ye?" To her Orestes answered, "What meanest thou, lady, by lamenting in this fashion over us? I hold it folly in him who must die that he should bemoan himself. Pity us not; we know what manner of sacrifices ye have in this land." "Tell me now, which of ye two is called Pylades?" "Not I, but this my companion." "Of what city in the land of Greece are ye? And are ye brothers born of one mother?" "Brothers we are, but in friendship, not in blood." "And what is thy name?" "That I tell thee not. Thou hast power over my body, but not over my name." "Wilt thou not tell me thy country?" And when he told her that his country was Argos, she asked him many things, as about Troy, and Helen, and Calchas the prophet, and Ulysses; and at last she said, "And Achilles, son of Thetis of the sea, is he yet alive?" "He is dead and his marriage that was made at Aulis is of no effect." "A false marriage it was, as some know full well." "Who art thou that inquirest thus about matters in Greece?"



"I am of the land of Greece and was brought thence yet being a child. But there was a certain Agamemnon, son of Atreus; what of him?" "I know not. Lady, leave all talk of him." "Say not so; but do me a pleasure and tell me." "He is dead." "Woe is me! How died he?" "What meaneth thy sorrow? Art thou of his kindred?" "'Tis a pity to think how great he was, and now he hath perished." "He was slain in a most miserable fashion by a woman, but ask no more." "Only this one thing. Is his wife yet alive?" "Nay; for the son whom she bare slew her, taking vengeance for his father." "A dreadful deed, but righteous withal." "Righteous indeed he is, but the gods love him not." "And did the king leave any other child behind him?" "One daughter, Electra by name." "And is his son yet alive?" "He is alive, but no man more miserable." Now when Iphigenia heard that he was alive and knew that she had been deceived by the dreams which she had dreamt, she conceived a thought in her heart and said to Orestes, "Hearken now, for I have somewhat to say to thee that shall bring profit both to thee and to me. Wilt thou, if I save thee from this death, carry tidings of me to Argos to my friends and bear a tablet from me to them? For such a tablet I have with me, which one who was brought captive to this place wrote for me, pitying me, for he knew that I caused not his death, but the law of the goddess in this place. Nor have I yet found a man who should carry this thing to Argos. But thou, I judge, art of noble birth and knowest the city and those with whom I would have communication. Take then this tablet and thy life as a reward, and let this man be sacrificed to the goddess."



And Iphigenia doubted much how this thing might be done. But at the last she said, "I have a device whereby I shall compass the matter. I will say that thou art come hither, having murdered thy mother, and that thou canst not be offered for a sacrifice till thou art purified with the water of the sea. Also that thou hast touched the image, and that this also must be purified in like manner. And the image I myself will bear to the sea; for, indeed, I only may touch it with my hands. And of this Pylades also I will say that he is polluted in like manner with thee. So shall we three win our way to the ship. And that this be ready it will be thy care to provide." And when she had so said, she prayed to Artemis: "Great goddess, that didst bring me safe in days past from Aulis, bring me now also, and these that are with me, safe to the land of Greece, so that men may count thy brother Apollo to be a true prophet. Nor shouldst thou be unwilling to depart from this barbarous land and to dwell in the fair city of Athens." After this came King Thoas, inquiring whether they had offered the strangers for sacrifice and had duly burnt their bodies with fire. To him Iphigenia made answer, "These were unclean sacrifices that thou broughtest to me, O King." "How didst thou learn this?" "The image of the goddess turned upon her place of her own accord and covered also her face with her hands." "What wickedness, then, had these strangers wrought?" "They slew their mother and had been banished therefor from the land of Greece."



"O monstrous! Such deeds we barbarians never do. And now what dost thou purpose?" "We must purify these strangers before we offer them for a sacrifice." "With water from the river, or in the sea?" "In the sea. The sea cleanseth away all that is evil among men." "Well, thou hast it here, by the very walls of the temple." "Aye, but I must seek a place apart from men." "So be it; go where thou wilt; I would not look on things forbidden." "The image also must be purified." "Surely, if the pollution from these murderers of their mother hath touched it. This is well thought of in thee." Then she instructed the king that he should bring the strangers out of the temple, having first bound them and veiled their heads. Also that certain of his guards should go with her, but that all the people of the city should be straitly commanded to stay within doors, that so they might not be defiled; and that he himself should abide in the temple and purify it with fire, covering his head with his garments when the strangers should pass by. "And be not troubled," she said, "if I seem to be long doing these things." "Take what time thou wilt," he said, "so that thou do all things in order."



So certain of the king's guards brought the two young men from out of the temple, and Iphigenia led them towards the place where the ship of Orestes lay at anchor. But when they were come near to the shore, she bade them halt nor come over-near, for that she had that to do in which they must have no part. And she took the chain wherewith the young men were bound in her hands and set up a strange song as of one that sought enchantments. And after that the guards sat where she bade them for a long time, they began to fear lest the strangers should have slain the priestess and so fled. Yet they moved not, fearing to see that which was forbidden. But at the last with one consent they rose up. And when they were come to the sea, they saw the ship trimmed to set forth, and fifty sailors on the benches having oars in their hands ready for rowing; and the two young men were standing unbound upon the shore near to the stern. And other sailors were dragging the ship by the cable to the shore that the young men might embark. Then the guards laid hold of the rudder and sought to take it from its place, crying, "Who are ye that carry away priestesses and the images of our gods?" Then Orestes said, "I am Orestes, and I carry away my sister." But the guards laid hold of Iphigenia; and when the sailors saw this they leapt from the ship; and neither the one nor the other had swords in their hands, but they fought with their fists and their feet also.



And as the sailors were strong and skilful, the king's men were driven back sorely bruised and wounded. And when they fled to a bank that was hard by and cast stones at the ship, the archers standing on the stern shot at them with arrows. Then--for his sister feared to come farther--Orestes leapt into the sea and raised her upon his shoulder and so lifted her into the ship, and the image of the goddess with her. And Pylades cried, "Lay hold of your oars, ye sailors, and smite the sea, for we have that for the which we came to this land." So the sailors rowed with all their might; and while the ship was in the harbor it went well with them, but when it was come to the open sea a great wave took it, for a violent wind blew against it and drove it backwards to the shore. And one of the guards when he saw this ran to King Thoas and told him, and the king made haste and sent messengers mounted upon horses, to call the men of the land that they might do battle with Orestes and his comrade. But while he was yet sending them, there appeared in the air above his head the goddess Athene, who spake, saying, "Cease, King Thoas, from pursuing this man and his companions; for he hath come hither on this errand by the command of Apollo; and I have persuaded Poseidon that he make the sea smooth for him to depart." And King Thoas answered, "It shall be as thou wilt, O goddess; and though Orestes hath borne away his sister and the image, I dismiss my anger, for who can fight against the gods?" So Orestes departed and came to his own country and dwelt in peace, being set free from his madness, according to the word of Apollo.

       



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