La Orestía

ISBN: 8471627892
ISBN 13: 9788471627896
By: Aeschylus

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About this book

The most famous series of ancient Greek plays, and the only surviving trilogy, is the Oresteia of Aeschylus, consisting of Agamemnon, Choephoroe, and Eumenides. These three plays recount the murder of Agamemnon by his queen Clytemnestra on his return from Troy with the captive Trojan princess Cassandra; the murder in turn of Clytemnestra by their son Orestes; and Orestes' subsequent pursuit by the Avenging Furies (Eumenides) and eventual absolution.Hugh Lloyd-Jones's informative notes elucidate the text, and introductions to each play set the trilogy against the background of Greek religion as a whole and Greek tragedy in particular, providing a balanced assessment of Aeschylus's dramatic art.

Reader's Thoughts

Mark Adderley

This is an excellent trilogy (of course), about a woman's revenge upon her husband for the sacrifice of her daughter, and a son's revenge upon his mother for having murdered his father...kind of confusing, like a lot of Greek tragedies. This one involves a conflict between the old ways, represented by Clytaemnestra, Agamemnon, and the Furies, and the new ways, represented by Orestes, Athena, and Apollo. It's Athena, through the use of reason and justice, who puts an end to the cycle of revenge and violence, and reconciles the old and new ways. The first two plays are tragedies, from at least one point of view, but the last one has an optimistic ending, with Athena and the Furies reconciled.Richmond Lattimore's translation is occasionally opaque; you have to read it twice to really get anything out of it.

Terry

Like so many other things that I've been reading lately, Aeschylus's trilogy is concerned with human beings thrown into the crucible of extremest intensity, pressured from every direction my conflicting obligations, driven to violent action and violent remorse. Few poets are as willing as Aeschylus to stare into the profound darkness of human suffering and name the curse that seems to hold us to the wheel of our own violence. Yet, even fewer are ultimately as hopeful about the possibility of our breaking that wheel, of our suffering a way through to wisdom and truth. In this way, Aeschylus is a religious poet who believes in redemptive sacrifice. And by placing his faith in the power of civic institutions to domesticate the chthonic forces of our souls and turn them toward public service, he is also a political poet. At a time when it is hard for poets to be either of these things, a time when our families and our politics seem equally bound up in sterile cycles of fear and retribution, Aeschylus may have much to teach.

Jeremy

Incredible. The language and images are dense and often feel hidden behind this odd primeval sort of weightiness. I sometimes found myself having to re-read a line four or five times before I really got all of the little nuances at work. Agamemnon was the definite favorite, personally I found the end of the Eumenides to be just a bit too tritely well-resolved, but that's a paltry complaint overall. A short but extremely demanding read.

Russell

I had in my mind that the these plays were full of mythology of the pantheon of Greek gods.There are gods, yes, and other mythological creatures like the Furies, but there is so much more there, themes of duty, of humility, hubris, sin and forgiveness, the weight and fullness of history (the Trojan War) and family. Out of these three plays Aeschylus sharply defined characters that still are echoed today. Clytemnestra, Cassandra and Iphigenia are still used as descriptions and figures today.I liked them all, Aeschylus was a genius and that shows clearly despite the ages and translation from Ancient Greek to English. They were highly enjoyable!So much of Western civilization is based on Greek culture, one really should read these plays.

Shannon (Giraffe Days)

Oresteia is the only surviving trilogy of Greek tragedy plays, performed in 458 BCE - two years before Aeschylus's death in 456 BCE. This review summarises all three plays as a trilogy, and because I think that it's easier to read them if you know what to expect, I do give away all the relevant plot points.The first play, "Agamemnon", is about betrayal: King Agamemnon returns home to Argos after the successful sacking of Troy (in modern-day Turkey), only to be killed by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover, Agamemnon's cousin, Aegisthus, who had taken over Agamemnon's rule in his absence. Clytemnestra is wrathful because her husband sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia, in order to placate the god Artemis and secure calm winds for the voyage to Troy, and kills Agamemnon in his bath. They also murder Cassandra, his spoils of war, the prophetess cursed to never be believed who sees her own death but is, of course, disbelieved. Such is the curse of Agamemnon's family continued.The second play, "Libation Bearers", is about just revenge, or deliverance. Clytemnestra and Agamemnon's son Orestes returns from another kingdom where he was sent to live, having learned from the oracle Loxias of his mother's murderous betrayal. Through Loxias he is given leave by the god Apollo to exact revenge by killing his mother and her lover. When he arrives at the palace he goes first to the tomb of his father to pay his respects; there he encounters his sister Electra, also in mourning. With the help of the palace servants, he disguises himself as a traveller bearing news of his own death so as to trick his way inside and see Aegisthus privately. He slews him and then his mother, who knows she is going to her death but does not fight it.The third play, "Eumenides", is about justice and change - it displays a new way of seeking justice, that in a new court-of-law, with the verdict decided by a group of citizen jurors in Athens. The Furies are hounding Orestes, demanding payment for the matricide. Orestes seeks out Apollo's temple and Apollo's protection, and then Athena (Pallas Athena), goddess of war, wisdom and justice (among many other things). Athena decides to hold a trial to hear the case, with the Furies the prosecution and Apollo defending Orestes. Athena casts her own vote in Orestes' favour, and the result is a tie: Orestes goes free. The Furies threaten to destroy the land but Athena placates them instead into protecting it, and decrees that henceforth a trial by jury shall always be used to decide such cases.That's the general overview of this trilogy of Greek tragedies, though there is a lot more going on in the details. I did struggle a bit, reading these short plays, because it's so hard for me to concentrate these days. I found my mind wandering continuously, thoughts intruding, and even when I made the effort to focus I often had to re-read passages several times and then admit defeat. The notes do help, but the fact remains that I had trouble with the structure of many lines, that like obscure poetry they alluded me. Full of metaphor and requiring a great deal of knowledge to get the mythic and historical references, a lot of "Agamemnon" in particular was hard to follow, in particular the Chorus' chants, like when they tell the story of the family curse (I only know that's what it's about from reading the intro and some notes. Other names are often used - like Ilion, for Troy, or Pallas, for Athena - and like an optical illusion the lines seem to double in on themselves so you don't know what the hell is really being said, or so it seems to me, like it's a language I don't know. It gives me a headache.Yet, on that note, it also made me wonder (an intruding thought among many), how these plays would have been heard by ordinary people, just as Shakespeare's plays were heard by the poor and uneducated as much as the rich - regardless, they all understood them, didn't they? I mean, the style of speech was understandable in all its convolutions and beseechings. We struggle to follow all the lines in Shakespeare today - it just makes me really recognise how much verbal language has changed, verbal English (I know Greek isn't English, but the translation honours the original). But I digress.I'm not entirely sure what to make of this story. We've all heard the story of Troy even if you haven't read The Illiad, and you've probably heard of Agamemnon and Cassandra too. Aeschylus wasn't the only playwright to create plays based on this myth of Agamemnon's murder - Euripides, for example, who came just after Aeschylus died, wrote one too. I've studied some ancient Greek plays, years ago, but I don't really have a background in it. To me, as a modern-day reader and an emancipated woman, I can't help but find them almost misogynistic in tone, even though scholars have apparently seen Clytemnestra as an early feminist figure for taking over the male role of ruler - the translator, Christopher Collard, Emeritus Professor of Classics at the University of Wales, says in his introduction that "it seems unnecessary to think of her as more than a playwright's imaginative construction for the sake of his drama." (p.xxvii) But there are far stronger anti-women sentiments voiced in these plays, especially the third one. (I want to bring it up not because I'm offended or anything, but because it's an interesting theme, to me at least, and because I vaguely remember when I studied Greek plays in university that strong, powerful, mad women are a common theme - but more than that, I can't remember!)In "Agamemnon", the king himself speaks of the gods' undivided and just support for the destruction of Tory, saying "it was for a woman that Troy was ground into dust..." (p.23)Apollo has the worst denouncement, though, when he says during the trial in "Eumenides":The so-called mother is no parent of a child, but nurturer of a newly seeded embryo; the parent is the one who mounts her, while she conserves the child like a stranger for a stranger, for those fathers not thwarted by god. [p.103] And Athena makes her judgement thus:It is my business in this case to give my judgement last; and I shall cast this vote of mine for Orestes. [...] I do so because there is no mother who gave me birth, and I approve the masculine in everything - except for union with it - with all my heart; and I am very much my father's: so I will set a higher value on the death of a woman who killed her husband, a house's guardian. [p.105](Athena, a rational goddess, is the daughter of Zeus, born of his head.)So combined with Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter, his other daughter Electra's idolatry of her father, Clytemnestra's usurping of a man's role and adultery, the gods' promotion of the masculine over the feminine is rather like having the last word. Bit hard to gainsay a god.I bring up the theme of women in these plays because I feel it is relevant in questioning, what is Clytemnestra's greatest crime here? Why does Orestes feel the need to kill her rather than bring her to justice? Certain lines jump out at me that make it apparent that her greatest crime was taking on a man's role, and therefore depriving Orestes of his inheritance. In "Libation Bearers", Orestes says of his decision to kill his mother, "Many desires are falling together into one; there are the gods' commands, and my great grief for my father; besides, it oppresses me to be deprived of my property, so that our citizens, who have the finest glory among men, and honour for their heart in sacking Troy, should not be subjects like this of a pair of women. [p.59](By "pair of women" he refers here to his mother's lover Aegisthus, who he calls "effeminate at heart".)I wonder whether she would have been so abominable in mens' eyes if she had not sought to rule, which she was doing in her husband's absence anyway. It is so easy in mythology to lay all blame and evil and everything that goes wrong, at the feet of women. What scapegoats we make! Though to be fair, if Athena had not cast her own vote, Orestes would have been found guilty, for her vote made it a tie in which case she decreed he would be pardoned. The majority of jurors voted against him. Which brings me to the big idea of the trilogy of plays, though: justice itself. Here we have the myth of how the first court of law, the first trial, began and was institutionalised in Athens, making it the most sophisticated and modern city-state in Greece. With the Furies trying to avenge Clytemnestra's murder and losing, they bemoan the change: "You younger gods! The ancient laws - you have ridden them down! You have taken them out of my hands for yourselves!" [p.106] The tied verdict, though, helps Athena, the patron of Athens, placate the Furies by saying they have not been dishonoured, and the goddess moves quickly to give the Furies a new role, that of protecting Athens rather than bringing destruction upon it for losing the trial. In doing so, she posits the city as the pinnacle of all things, blessed by the gods and made fortunate by the Furies who she gives the role of "keeping both land and cit on the straight way of justice." (p.111) In telling the story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra's downfall, this trilogy of plays gives us the mythologised story of how Athens became great - to an Athenian audience, so it's very much a self-aggrandising story.There's lots more going on here; I've barely scratched the surface. I don't feel I can give it a rating, so I've given it a 3 because it's so middle-of-the-road. In terms of the general plot, it brought to mind "Hamlet" and also "Macbeth" - it's true that everything borrows from everything else, and stripped down, I'm sure there are probably only about three real plots or something (or was it seven? I think there's a book on this already!). It's tricky to read because all the action happens off the page; or rather, it happens in speech, making it fairly bogged-down with details, but this was also an interesting aspect of the plays. It was hard to read Cassandra and Clytemnestra's dialogue when they are both aware they are walking to their deaths - there's real emotion in those lines. The chants of the chorus are the hardest to read, being like poetry rather than prose and requiring significant background knowledge to understand. A note on this edition: This is a new 2002 translation by Christopher Collard for Oxford World's Classics, and it's more of an academic translation than a popular, readable one. There is a long introduction and essay by Collard on the characters, the theatre production of the plays, dramatic form and so on, as well as extensive notes in the back. It comes with a summary of the three plays - which it's a great idea to read first or it's hard to follow what's going on - as well as a chronology of Agamemnon's family and a map that shows Greece and Turkey, which I really appreciated. All in all, it's a very thorough translation, noting when lines and words are missing from the original manuscripts, and probably your best choice if you're studying the plays.

Morgan

I enjoyed "The Eumenides" more than I thought I would, more than the other two parts of the trilogy. Reading "The Libation Bearers" was incredibly confusing, because I had read two versions of "Electra" before going into The Oresteia, and sophomore year of highschool I saw a play entitled "Orestes 2.0," which was a wacky retelling of the mythos of Orestes and Electra. None of these fell into my understanding of the myth, which is Orestes kills Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, Electra has a part in it but ends up going insane and either killing herself or someone else, and then Orestes is hounded by the Erinye.This is a pretty hard translation to get through, very long and flowy and it's incredibly easy to get lost in the language. It's also easy to miss subtle little nuances in the text. Over all, though, it seems to stay pretty true to Aeschylus. Or so my professor hinted at.

Ara

Aeschylus, as the original Greek playwright, sticks to the basics of his time. There is a chorus, a few singularly riveting lines from Clytemnestra (who has been harboring hot anger for over a decade since her husband sacrificed their daughter to the winds), a murder, revenge, etc. There are definitely some lines that I loved when I read through these plays. Reading is a different experience when you are reading through plays, after all. Agamemnon was an excellent piece. Electra, however, is awful. Not because Aeschylus is, but because she is. And she only gets worse. Sophocles and Euripides wrote their own versions of Electra and with each one she just gets whinier, turns into a wannabe goth-girl, and makes me just want to slap her. That being said, it's still worth reading through the whole thing.

John

The only surviving trilogy of classical Greek tragic plays (though its corresponding satyr play is lost), the Oresteia represents better than any other work the raw and primal power of Aeschylus' work. He is not as sophisticated a playwright as Sophocles, and not remotely as daring, formally or thematically, as Euripides, but he brings us closer than they do to the sacral and ritual origins of the tragic drama. The Fagles translation perfectly captures the trilogy's nearly barbaric force.

Karen

This dramatic trilogy is amazing. Unless you are intensely familiar with Greek history and myth, get a good copy of Aeschylus' writing with notes and glossary in the back. I read a Penguin publisher edition, translated by Robert Fagles. It was beautiful. The language: stunning. My vocabulary, like most eary-twenty-somethings I know,is grossly bleak. My language skills suck. The third play, The Eumenidies is the first record of a trial in dramatic history. Drama is at its core, the art of a democratic civilization. But what good is democratic law, when our power of rhetoric, our knowledge of language, or ability to use our freedom of speech is weak beyond belief? ---Classics like this have disappeared from public education. Why?. . . Why? Because standards must sink in a passive socialist society. Well, that thought is just what sprung to mind. I'm not really sure why. The point is: people should be learning about the roots of their society, how democracy was born (i.e. in the theaters of ancient Greece), and how the knowledge of language is the greatest power a person can ever hope to weild. Introducing literature such as this early on in a person's life--like, before the age of ten--will expand their linguistic potential and also get them thinking for themselves. "Thinking for oneself" That phrase reminds me of another phenomena: independant thought, questioning authority--are other abilities that recede in a Socialist society along with the ability to put thoughts, impulse, and emotion into words, much less into flexible, persuasive, powerful rhetoric. You want world peace? Brain to banish the power of brawn? Then cultivate your mind, baby. Peace talks take persausive language by people with enough knowledge of speecha and words to creatively adapt their language to persuade another body of persons into doing what they want by their own volition. Basically, if you want world peace: make your four-year-old learn Greek and Latin. Let him/her read Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound and Orestia, and you will get a freethinking, genius of a kid.

Taka

Good stuff--Although somewhat confusing in parts (esp. the Chorus), it was still a pleasure to read one of the oldest surviving Greek tragedies. The only complete trilogy of Aeschylus surviving, Oresteia tells the story of Clytemnestra's murder of her husband, Agamemnon, then Agamemnon's son, Orestes's revenge on his own mother and her whipped wimp of a lover, Aegisthus, and finally Orestes's reconciliation with the crime of matricide in a bit surreal court scene of Apollo defending Orestes's murder against the accusation of the Furies (Eumenides) in front of a tribunal which Athena quickly composes of wise mortal men, saying that she the divinity/goddess of wisdom herself wasn't quite up to par to render judgment in such a hard case but those mortals put together can.Overall, I liked it.

Charles

On the grand scale of things, I now believe that if Aeschylus did not exist, Shakespeare would have died a poor actor in a tragic untimely death most likely caused by unfulfilled dreams.I'm saying this not because it is my intention to lessen the sheer poetic genius of Shakespeare, who still remains my all time favourite playwright (bar a play or two). It is because Aeschylus incorporated such a variety of themes/current affairs/implications/legal and dynastic issues and so on (for a hundred more pages) that whether one judges 'The Oresteia' trilogy from the basis of a dramatic text or from that of a literary text, it would not make any difference. It would still deserve all five stars from any critical perspective. 1) 'Agamemnon':A predominantly domestic tragedy, 'Agamemnon' explores the background of the events that led up to the Trojan war and its eventual capture ('the tragedy of war') and its motives and cause (we're looking at you Helen), Agamemnon's leadership (only his ship returned despite such a military victory, a political tragedy and Clytaemnestra's motive.As argued by more competent critics before me, this play is "not so much right against wrong as right against right". What this means is that Clytaemnestra had her own reasons too, Agamemnon's sacrifice of Iphigenia, his mistress Cassandra and her own lover Aegisthus (she claimed that no woman should be apart from her husband for ten years as well, poor her), though this is cause for such an atrocious murder is another thing. It is quite a lengthy play (though I was not bored), the material Aeschylus had to work on was limited so to make it dramatically entertaining is no small feat. There is also a similarity to Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth when Aeschylus admits his "desire to transcend the limitations of presentation". The play ends with Clytaemnestra expressing her desire that peace should bring good order into their cursed house...~4/52) 'The Libation Bearers':The bulk of the tragic legend, that both Euripides and Sophocles had named 'Electra' in their own interesting versions, which "takes place some years after the close of Agamemnon". I have already described the plot in detail in my reviews of both the 'Electra' plays. Aeschylus deliberately connected 'Agamemnon' with this one though, for "like Clytaemnestra at the close of Agamemnon, Orestes defends his position" as if he thinks that by his "innocent murder" he has brought peace to the accursed house. Well, he is also mistaken. Another interesting point is that from a character chart it can be clearly deduced that Aeschylus' 'The Libation Bearers' is a mother-son play, rather than focusing too much on the character of Electra. His chorus of grieving women does the job just as nicely.The famous revelation scene, where Electra understands that it is Orestes as she compare their footprints (as if they would be the same anyway, Euripides does a daring parody in his 'Electra') did seem to me to be a bit 'funny' (not to use the word 'false'). Still, this is a masterful play that set the standard for all the tragic plays to come.~4.5/53) 'The Eumenides'A very interesting take by Aeschylus on Orestes' fate, one which I had a confused idea about. Basically, Orestes finds himself "cleared by Apollo (who is a god who is able to assume responsibility for once) but still pursued by the furies".However, what is fundamentally significant in this play is the original way it debates the whole concept of the Hellenistic system of justice, through the character of the god 'Athene' (Athena). For example, when the furies argue that Orestes killed his mother deliberately, Athena acts as his advocate. She argues and advocates a lot of points that have since become the principles of the current modern legal system. 1) To hear both sides of the argument even if one side evidently wronged, 2) Wrong must not win by technicalities and so on. What is also relevant is that the goddess of wisdom (that sure comes in handy in a maths exam) leaves the case to none other than "the finest of her citizens". Of course, Aeschylus examines the furies' side of the argument as well. They argue that the "house of justice had collapsed" and that "every man will find a way to act his own caprice". They also say that "there are times when fear is good" (as if the divine order of things should be feared if it was respected and followed). The old system with the new system is also contrasted, one should remember that Zeus usurped his farther's (Kronos') throne, and ushered a new generation in his time as well. Maybe, Aeschylus is arguing that the time has come foe another, a better one...I could go on and bore you with many more line, for we are dealing with a master playwright here, one who has mastered not just the craft but developed a new standard and a new style. In Aeschylus, one has to think to gain any kind of satisfaction. ~4.5/5Overall 5/5, plays that deserve to be studied, read and enjoyed even though we are probably not the intended target audience.IMPORTANT: The quotes I used were from the brilliant introduction by Richmond Lattimore ('The Complete Greek Tragedies Volume 1', The University of Chicago Press)

Alexander Santiago

This is perhaps ancient Greece's most famous tragic trilogy that has survived antiquity. "Agamemnon" deals with the treacherous murder of King Agamemnon, just returned from the Trojan war, at the hands of his wife, Clytemnestra, and his brother (who had an affair with his wife and coveted the throne). "The Libation Bearers" brings karmic and bloody retribution upon Clytemnestra at the hands of her only son, Orestes, avenging the death of his father. "The Eumenides" deals with Orestes flight from 'the furies,' demon-like creatures who are hellbent on exacting justice for the unforgivable sin of matricide, with a climax of Orestes appealing for mercy and clemency from the gods of Olympus for his "crime." A fascinating read with such descriptions that one cannot help but imagine the scenes that take place. Highly recommended!

Melora

I'm giving this five stars for Agamemnon. I only give The Libation Bearers four. I wouldn't have objected to a few more explanatory notes in the text, but the Introduction was very good. I'm not normally a fan of murder, but Agamemnon is such a jerk that killing him hardly seemed like a crime. I'd have liked Clytaemnestra better, though, if she'd let Cassandra go.

Laura

Murder, betrayal, revenge, torment . . . you might wonder, “Why would I bother reading three Greek plays when I could see the same sort of lurid problems on an episode of Jerry Springer? And fold laundry at the same time??” Two possible answers: First, you’re not going to get patricide, matricide, human sacrifice and unintentional cannibalism on daytime TV because we still draw the line somewhere, and you have to admit those are pretty dramatic. More importantly, though, along with the dysfunction in the House of Atreus comes a searing examination of guilt, retribution, and justice. It’s a lot of philosophical bang for your buck.The first play in the trilogy, Agamemnon, sets up the conflict for the remaining two. Agamemnon returns home from the Trojan War to his wife, Clytemnestra, who has spent the last ten years plotting revenge because he sacrificed their daughter to appease a god at the outset of the journey. The verbal interplay at their reunion is the stuff of English majors’ dreams. Clytaemnestra’s subsequent murder of Agamemnon, with the help of a lover who has his own history with Agamemnon, is the stuff of Mafia dreams – though actually I’m only guessing on that one. However, Clytaemnestra’s revenge creates the conflict that drives the other two plays and generates the ethical conundrum Aeschylus ultimately wants to solve. For now Clytaemnestra’s son, Orestes, needs to avenge his father’s death . . . but what happens if you kill your own mother? And how is the cycle of revenge ever supposed to end??The Libation Bearers has Orestes debating what he should do, sort of like Hamlet, until the advice of his sister and the chorus women wins the day. . . and that’s when the excitement kicks up a notch. Clytaemnestra’s death at the hand of her son calls forth the avenging Furies — ancient goddesses of chthonic tradition who appear here as gorgon-like horrors, swathed in black, heads writhing with snakes. It’s so dramatic!! Also it’s fitting, for Clytaemnestra is like a Fury herself: in avenging her daughter’s death she acts within the old paradigm of blood ties that the Furies champion, wherein maternal claims are stronger than marital. So even though Orestes does his duty to avenge his father (in accordance with the current ethos), he’s pursed by snaky-haired horrors for killing his mother. Like his father, Orestes appears to be both an agent and a victim of fate, for in following the gods’ direction to avenge his father’s death, he both aligns himself with the Furies’ spirit of vengeance and becomes subject to it. Perhaps Orestes’ contradictory relationship with the Furies is Aeschylus’s commentary on a theology rife with snares and contradictions. In The Eumenides, Aeschylus resolves the problem, but his “solution” to the blood feud tradition is hardly unproblematic itself — read it and lose sleep! But you’ll know for sure why this is a masterpiece.

Justin Evans

I tried to read 'Prometheus Bound' years ago, and couldn't finish it. Clearly I should have waited a while- The Oresteia, in the Fagles translation, is one of the most remarkable books I've ever read. Darker and more violent than anything the 20th century could come up with, it's also brighter and more hopeful than anything from the 19th century. It's as if someone had written both Schiller's 'Ode to Joy' and Eliot's 'Waste Land', and it was one book, only there was far deeper social, political and religious thought involved (this is no slight to those two poems). A less edifying, but funnier joy was finding the original 'better to live on your feet than die on your knees' statement being made by an old codger running around like a headless chook while the 'tyrant' murders the 'innocents.' Otherwise, the introductory essay is a little hand-wavy for my tastes, and the notes are often too detailed and insufficiently informative. Fagles' translation is modern in that it accepts and respects difficulty, while not being utterly obscure. It'll take you some time to read, but it's well worth it.

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