Mothers and daughters. Persephone and Demeter.

Identifications
— korē
Persephone
— Demeter

1a. Nikandre Korē, 7th c. BCE. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

1b. Inscription on the Nikandre Korē. Image: beazley.ox.ac.uk. The inscription is written in boustrophedon, meaning ‘ox-turning’, like a plough in a field (left to right, then right to left etc.).

Inscription on Nikandre kore oxford

Nikandre dedicated me to the far-shooter of arrows,
the excellent daughter of Deinodikes of Naxos,
sister of Deinomenes, wife of Phraxos

2. Women in the Classical World p29:

“It has been suggested that the statues represent these young women in a specific situation known to us from Archaic literary sources, their appearance in religious sanctuaries on the occasion of public festivals…These were virtually the only times when a girl of marriageable age might appear in public, and the most behavior expected of her is echoed in the demure downward gaze of many korai. Yet at the same time, paradoxically, she might call attention to herself with her elegant clothes, elaborately styled hair, expensive jewelry, makeup, and even a gesture of pulling her garment tight, emphasizing breasts, legs, and buttocks. Her beauty makes her an adornment to her family, to be appraised by prospective husbands; yet she should not call attention to herself, lest she invite unwanted admirers.”

3. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 1-46

I begin to sing of Demeter, the holy goddess with the beautiful hair. And her daughter [Persephone] too. The one with the delicate ankles, whom Hades seized. She was given away by Zeus, the loud-thunderer, the one who sees far and wide. Demeter did not take part in this, she of the golden double-axe, she who glories in the harvest. [5] She [Persephone] was having a good time, along with the daughters of Okeanos, who wear their girdles slung low. She was picking flowers: roses, crocus, and beautiful violets. Up and down the soft meadow. Iris blossoms too she picked, and hyacinth. And the narcissus, which was grown as a lure for the flower-faced girl by Gaia [Earth]. All according to the plans of Zeus. She [= Gaia] was doing a favor for the one who receives many guests [= Hades]. [10] It [the narcissus] was a wondrous thing in its splendor. To look at it gives a sense of holy awe to the immortal gods as well as mortal humans. It has a hundred heads growing from the root up. Its sweet fragrance spread over the wide skies up above. And the earth below smiled back in all its radiance. So too the churning mass of the salty sea.

[15] She [Persephone] was filled with a sense of wonder, and she reached out with both hands to take hold of the pretty plaything. And the earth, full of roads leading every which way, opened up under her. It happened on the Plain of Nysa. There it was that the Lord who receives many guests[= Hades] made his lunge. He was riding on a chariot drawn by immortal horses. The son of Kronos. The one known by many names. He seized her against her will, put her on his golden chariot, [20] And drove away as she wept. She cried with a piercing voice, calling upon her father [Zeus], the son of Kronos, the highest and the best. But not one of the immortal ones, or of human mortals, heard her voice. Not even the olive trees which bear their splendid harvest. Except for the daughter of Persaios, the one who keeps in mind the vigor of nature. [25] She heard it from her cave. She is Hekate, with the splendid headband. And the Lord Helios [Sun] heard it too, the magnificent son of Hyperion. They heard the daughter calling upon her father [Zeus], the son of Kronos. But he, all by himself, was seated far apart from the gods, inside a temple, the precinct of many prayers. He was receiving beautiful sacrificial rites from mortal humans.

[30] She was being taken, against her will, at the behest of Zeus, by her father’s brother, the one who makes many signs, the one who receives many guests, the son of Kronos, the one with many names. On the chariot drawn by immortal horses. So long as the earth and the star-filled sky were still within the goddess’s [Persephone’s] view, as also the fish-swarming sea, with its strong currents, [35] as also the rays of the sun, she still had hope that she would yet see her dear mother and that special group, the immortal gods. For that long a time her great mind was soothed by hope, distressed as she was. The peaks of mountains resounded, as did the depths of the sea, with her immortal voice. And the Lady Mother [Demeter] heard her.[40] And a sharp pain seized her heart. The headband on her hair she tore off with her own immortal hands and threw a dark cloak over her shoulders. She sped off like a bird, soaring over land and sea, looking and looking. But no one was willing to tell her the truth [45], not one of the gods, not one of the mortal humans, not one of the birds, messengers of the truth.

4. Hades abducts Persephone. Fresco from royal tomb at Vergina (ancient Aigai), Macedonia, c. 336 BCE. Vergina Archaeological Museum, in situ. Image: Wikimedia.

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5. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 93-117.

She went away, visiting the cities of humans, with all their fertile landholdings, shading over her appearance, for a long time. And not one of men, [95] looking at her, could recognize her. Not one of women, either, who are accustomed to wear their girdles low-slung. Until, one day, she came to the house of bright-minded Keleos, who was at that time ruler of Eleusis, fragrant with incense. She sat down near the road, sad in her dear heart, at the well called Parthenion [= the Virgin’s Place], where the people of the polis used to draw water. [100] She sat in the shade, under the thick growth of an olive tree, looking like an old woman who had lived through many years and who is deprived of giving childbirth and of the gifts of Aphrodite, lover of garlands in the hair. She was like those nursemaids who belong to kings, administrators of divine ordinances, and who are guardians of children in echoing palaces.

[105] She was seen by the daughters of Keleos, son of Eleusinos, who were coming to get water, easy to draw [from the well], in order to carry it in bronze water-jars to the dear home of their father. There were four of them, looking like goddesses with their bloom of adolescence: Kallidike, Kleisidike, and lovely Demo. [110] And then there was Kallithoe, who was the eldest of them all. They did not recognize her [= Demeter]. Gods are hard for mortals to see. They [= the daughters] stood near her and spoke these winged words: “Who are you, and where are you from, old woman, old among old humans? Why has your path taken you far away from the city? Why have you not drawn near to the palace? [115] There, throughout the shaded chambers, are women who are as old as you are, and younger ones too, who would welcome you in word and in deed.”

6. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 184-204.

Straightaway they came to the palace of sky-nurtured Keleos. [185]. They went through the hall, heading for the place where their mistress, their mother, was sitting near the threshold of a well-built chamber, holding in her lap her son, a young seedling. And they ran over to her side. She [= Demeter] in the meantime went over to the threshold and stood on it, with feet firmly planted, and her head reached all the way to the ceiling. And she filled the whole indoors with a divine light. [190] She [= Metaneira] was seized by a sense of respect, by a holy wonder, by a blanching fear. She [= Metaneira] yielded to her [= Demeter] the chair on which she was sitting, and she told her to sit down. But Demeter, the bringer of seasons [horai], the giver of splendid gifts, refused to sit down on the splendid chair, but she stood there silent, with her beautiful eyes downcast, [195] until Iambe, the one who knows what is worth caring about  and what is not, set down for her a well-built stool, on top of which she threw a splendid fleece.

On this she [= Demeter] sat down, holding with her hands a veil before her face. For a long time she sat on the stool, without uttering a sound, in her sadness. And she made no approach, either by word or by gesture, to anyone. [200] Unsmiling, not partaking of food or drink, she sat there, wasting away with yearning for her daughter with the low-slung girdle, until Iambe, the one who knows what is dear and what is not, started making fun. Making many jokes, she turned the Holy Lady’s disposition in another direction, making her smile and laugh and have a merry heart.

7. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 302-315.

But blond-haired Demeter sat down and stayed there [= in the temple], shunning the company of all the blessed ones [= the gods]. She was wasting away with yearning for her daughter with the low-slung girdle. [305] She made that year the most terrible one for mortals, all over the Earth, the nurturer of many. It was so terrible, it makes you think of the Hound of Hades. The Earth did not send up any seed. Demeter, she with the beautiful garlands in her hair, kept them [= the seeds] covered underground. Many a curved plough was dragged along the fields by many an ox – all in vain. Many a bright grain of wheat fell into the earth – all for naught.

[310] At this moment, she [= Demeter] could have destroyed the entire race of mortal humans with harsh hunger, thus depriving of their time the dwellers of the Olympian abodes – [the time of] sacrificial portions of meat for eating or for burning, if Zeus had not noticed with his mind, taking note in his heart. First, he sent Iris, with the golden wings, to summon [315] Demeter with the splendid hair, with a beauty that is much loved.

8. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 334-345.

But when the loud-thunderer, the one who sees far and wide, heard this, [335] he sent to Erebos [= Hades] the one with the golden wand, the Argos-killer [= Hermes], so that he may persuade Hades, with gentle words, that he allow holy Persephone to leave the misty realms of darkness and be brought up to the light in order to join the daimones [here = the gods in Olympus], so that her mother may see her with her own eyes and then let go of her anger. [340] Hermes did not disobey, but straightaway he headed down beneath the depths of the earth, rushing full speed, leaving behind the abode of Olympus. And he found the Lord inside his palace, seated on a funeral couch, along with his duly acquired bedmate, the one who was much under duress, yearning for her mother, and suffering from the unbearable things [345] inflicted on her by the will of the blessed ones [= the gods].

9a. Attic red-figure vase (kylix), c. 430 BCE. Interior of cup) shows Persephone, holding something small (pomegranate seed?), sitting and Hades, holding a cornucopia (right) and a phialē (centre), reclining on a couch. Image: British Museum.

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9b. 

10. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 370-384.

[370] And high-minded Persephone rejoiced. Swiftly she set out, with joy. But he [= Hades] gave her, stealthily, the honey-sweet berry of the pomegranate to eat, peering around him. He did not want her to stay for all time over there, at the side of her honorable mother, the one with the dark robe [375] The immortal horses were harnessed to the golden chariot by Hades, the one who makes many signs. She got up on the chariot, and next to her was the powerful Argos-killer, who took reins and whip into his dear hands and shot out of the palace [of Hades]. And the horses sped away eagerly. [380] Swiftly they made their way along the long journey. Neither the sea nor the water of the rivers nor the grassy valleys nor the mountain peaks could hold up the onrush of the immortal horses.

11. Apulian (South Italian) red-figure vase (volute krater), c. 370-350 BCE. Hermes left, accompanies Hades and Persephone in a chariot, with Hekate right. Image: British Museum.

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A different kind of translation.

Identifications
— women who translate
— classicists vs. writers (novelists/poets)
— dmōē

1. A page from a notebook Emily Wilson kept while translating the Odyssey (Geordie Wood for The New York Times Nov. 2. 2017).

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2. Emily Wilson, (2018) introduction to Homer’s Odyssey, p88-89:

“To translate a domestic female slave, called in the original a dmōē [δμωή] (“female-house-slave”), as a “maid” or “domestic servant” would imply that she was free. I have often used “slave,” although it is less specific than many of the many terms for types of slaves in the original. The need to acknowledge the fact and the horror of slavery, and to mark the fact that the idealized society depicted in the poem is one of slavery is shockingly taken for granted, seems to me [p89] to outweigh the need to specify, in every instance, the type of slave. I have also used the terms “house girl” and “house boy.” The analogy with a slave-owning plantation in the antebellum American South is certainly not exact, but it is at least a little closer than the alternative analogies — of a Victorian stately home or a modern nightclub. I try to avoid importing contemporary types of sexism into this ancient poem, instead shining a clear light on the particular forms of sexism and patriarchy that do exist in the text, which are partly familiar from our world. For instance, in the scene where Telemachus oversees the hanging of the slaves who have been sleeping with the suitors, most translations introduce derogatory language (“sluts” or “whores”), suggesting that these women are being punished for a genuinely objectionable pattern of behavior, as if their sexual history actually justified their deaths. The original Greek does not label these slaves with any derogatory language.”

3. Yung In Chae, “Women Who Weave.” Eidolon. Nov. 16 2017.

“Much fuss has also been made about Wilson’s translation of κυνώπις [kynōpis], which means ‘dog-faced’ but in a fairly capacious way. Helen uses it in reference to herself in Book 4 [Ody. 4.145], when Telemachus stops by Sparta while searching for news of his father. Robert Fagles makes Helen call herself a ‘shameless whore.’ Richard Lattimore and Walter Shewring both opt for ‘shameless me.’ Martin Hammond goes simple with just ‘whore’ and Anthony Verity settles on the more colorful ‘shameless bitch.’ This is Wilson’s version of the passage:

I never saw two people so alike
as this boy and Telemachus, the son
of spirited Odysseus, the child
he left behind, a little newborn baby,
the day the Greeks marched off to Troy, their minds
fixated on the war and violence.
They made my face the cause that hounded them.

By choosing ‘hounded’  — an English idiom — Wilson is essentially claiming that the ‘dog’ aspect is more important than the precise pitch of the Greek, and, in the introduction, she draws a connection between the ‘dog’ aspect and the ‘woman’ aspect. ‘The idea that women or goddesses, especially desirable ones who sleep with men outside marriage, are like dogs, or have doglike faces, recurs at several moments in the poem: Hephaestus uses the same term of his unfaithful, divinely beautiful wife, Aphrodite; the dead Agamemnon calls his murderous wife a ‘she-dog’; and the pretty slave girl Melantho is called a ‘dog’ by both Penelope and Odysseus,’ she points out [2018: 43].

Granted — as Wilson herself acknowledges — κυνώπις is not exclusively reserved for women; in that sense, it is not the exact equivalent of “bitch,” which she says “would be a misleading translation.” But the association nevertheless persists: “Women, more than men, are like dogs, because they are put low on the social hierarchy, and because they might be scarily capable of seeing through social conventions, and might refuse to stay in their place,” Wilson argues. “But the idea that it is not the woman or goddess herself, but her face, that is like a dog suggests that it might be male perceptions of women, rather than female desires themselves, that threaten the social fabric.” [2018: 44] (For those interested, Cristiana Franco has a book on this subject [available online via Mugar].)”

4. Yung In Chae, “Women Who Weave.” Eidolon. Nov. 16 2017.

“Wilson’s choice of ‘girls’ is glass but not mirror: it shows us the sexism of the times without implicating us too. Could a man have written The Penelopiad? Or have done what Wilson did in her translation? Maybe. But men had a monopoly on Homer translations for a long time, so they’ve had plenty of chances. And it hasn’t happened so far…As Wilson says in her New York Times profile, “all translations are interpretations.” To translate is not to dig for the One Rendering buried under the crusty layers of the original language. It is to peer at a cloth made during the day, unravel the fabric, then discover a way to weave it back together under a different light.

5. Emily Wilson, interviewed (with Sarah Ruden) by David Kern in Forma Journal. March 3 2018.

“We also need to factor in all the other social factors that often make it hard to be successful and productive while being female. It’s still the case that women, including highly educated and successful women, and even those with partners or husbands, tend to spend a lot more hours per week on childcare, eldercare, and housework than their male peers. I’m the single mother of three wonderful and time-consuming daughters; unlike many of the successful male classical translators, I have never had a wife who could pick up the kids and make dinner.”

6. Emily Wilson, interviewed (with Sarah Ruden) by David Kern in Forma Journal. March 3 2018.

“The task of translation has now become its own kind of obsession—the question of how exactly to create a coherent, readable English text/poem/play that has its own kind of magic, and that responds responsibly to the original, without trying to inhabit an intermediate ground between Greek or Latin and English, but makes sense in its own terms. It’s a very difficult and very interesting kind of work, and I learn a great deal not only about the originals I translate, but also about the English language.”

7. Emily Wilson, interviewed (with Sarah Ruden) by David Kern in Forma Journal. March 3 2018.

“You create a binary between love and fear, which doesn’t entirely make sense to me. There’s a great essay by Stanley Cavell on the avoidance of love in King Lear. Cavell argues that in that play, and also in life, love itself is very often what we’re most afraid of. Instead of love, which involves being able to meet the eyes of another person, and recognize and be recognized by them, we hide behind false love or false words or shame or narcissism. Cordelia’s sisters express false love with their rhetorical excesses, and Lear chooses that false love, because he is scared of the intimacy of telling the truth.

For me, translation is definitely an act of love, both for the English language and for the original language and original text. Part of what that love means is being willing to be unashamed about what I can’t say or do in English.”

8. Dan Chiasson, “The Classics Scholar Redefining What Twitter Can Do.” The New Yorker. March 19 2018.

“On March 8th, International Women’s Day, when McDonald’s flipped its arches and Vladimir Putin expressed “our enchantment” with women’s “beauty and tenderness,” Emily Wilson, the classics scholar and translator of Homer, spent part of the day on Twitter. In sentences whose measured clauses stood out in the cascade of blurted takes, she wrote:

In the ensuing tweetstorm, Wilson discussed one of the most casually brutal passages in Homer, when Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, acting at his father’s command, executes twelve slave women who slept with the suitors vying to marry Penelope, the queen, during Odysseus’ long absence. Wilson has not been shy about calling out prior translators of the poem, dead and alive.”

9. Dan Chiasson, “The Classics Scholar Redefining What Twitter Can Do.” The New Yorker. March 19 2018.

“Regardless, Wilson’s presence on Twitter is quietly revolutionary, a new kind of experience for readers, poets, translators, and really anyone who likes to watch knowledge take shape in an open format, its seams exposed. Like-minded people sharing their obsessions were the soil in which the larger Internet once grew; those transactions, commercialized and monetized, remade the world, with infinite ramifications downstream, some miraculous, some horrible.”

10. Dan Chiasson, “The Classics Scholar Redefining What Twitter Can Do.” The New Yorker. March 19 2018.

“Translation is a little different: the range of choices is narrowed, the criteria for choice more transparent. Any time we see a phrase next to the alternatives that it beat out, we learn something, not merely about literature but about the normally veiled process of selection by which literature, word for word, is constituted. This makes the art especially suited to having its mechanism unmasked. Wilson is the most prominent translator I know of to have exposed her choices to something like public scrutiny: her prominence, in this instance, really matters, since in Twitter terms it gives her more followers, more potential interlocutors.”

11. Emily Wilson on being the “first woman”: 

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The women of epic. Nausicaa. Circe.

Identifications
— female space vs. male space
— sexual fidelity
— Nausicaa
— Arete

1. Emily Wilson, (2018) introduction to Homer’s Odyssey, p38:

The Odyssey allows us to imagine a far more varied array of possible female lives. Its various settings — in multiple different islands, homes, and palaces, in peacetime rather than war — are mostly places where women or goddesses have a defined position and a voice. Some scholars have tried to find buried memories in The Odyssey of an ancient, pre-Greek matriarchal society — for example, in the peculiarly high status of Queen Arete in Phaeacia, who sometimes, confusingly, seems more important than her husband, or in Penelope’s power in Ithaca over even the male members of her household, most prominently Telemachus. But these elements in the poem probably tell us more about male fears and fantasies, both ancient and modern, than about the historical realities of archaic or pre-archaic women’s lives.

Samuel Butler [1835-1902] famously suggested in the nineteenth century that the Odyssey must have been written by a woman, because it has so many interesting and sympathetically portrayed female characters: ‘People always write by preference what they know best, and they know best what they most are, and have most to do with.'”

2. Emily Wilson, (2018) introduction to Homer’s Odyssey, p40:

“The poem circles around the question of whether an elite woman’s worth depends entirely on sexual fidelity. Odysseus has affairs with Calypso and Circe in the course of his wanderings, as well as a carefully calibrated flirtation with young Nausicaa. These episodes are not presented as a sign of disloyalty to his wife or a blot on his character…”

3. Attic red-figure small box (pyxis), c. 420 BCE in the Boston MFA. The pyxis was used for storing trinkets, ointments, cosmetics, and is therefore generally associated with women. This “vase” shape was regularly decorated with scenes of female activity. This pyxis shows a naked Odysseus encountering Nausicaa, a scene from the Odyssey Book 6.

Odyssey pyxis 1.jpg

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4Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 6.119-146:

“What is this country I have come to now?
Are all the people wild and violent,
or good, hospitable, and god-fearing?
I heard the sound of female voices. Is it
nymphs, who frequent the craggy mountaintops,
and river streams and meadows lush with grass?
Or could this noise I hear be human voices?
I have to try to find out who they are.”

Odysseus jumped up from our the bushes.
Grasping a leafy branch he broke it off
to cover up his manly private parts.
Just as a mountain lion trusts its strength,
and beaten by the rain and wind, its eyes
burn bright as it attacks the cows or sheep,
or wild deer, and hunger drives it on
to try the sturdy pens of sheep — so need
impelled Odysseus to come upon
the girls with pretty hair, though he was naked.
All caked with salt, he looked a dreadful sight.
They ran along the shore quite terrified,
some here, some there. But Nausicaa stayed still.
Athena made her legs stop trembling
and gave her courage in her heart. She stood there.
He wondered, should he touch her knees, or keep
some distance and use charming words, to beg
the pretty girl to show him to the town,
and give him clothes. At last he thought it best
to keep some distance and use words to beg her.

5. Sarah PomeroyGoddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves (1975: 18): 

“Heroic Greek society demanded that all mature women be married, and destined all young women for that end. In the Odyssey, upon meeting the princess Nausicaa, who is of marriageable age, Odysseus almost immediately [6.180-185] expresses the polite wish that she find a husband and enjoy a harmonious marriage.”

6a. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 6.302-308:

Go through the courtyard, in the house and on
straight to the Great Hall. You will find my mother
sitting beside the hearth by firelight,
and spinning her amazing purple wool.
She leans against a pillar, slaves behind her.
My father has a throne right next to hers;
he sits and sips his wine, just like a god.

6b. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 7.104-112:

The King had fifty slave girls in his house;
some ground the yellow grain upon the millstone,
others wove cloth and sat there spinning yarn,
with fingers quick as rustling poplar leaves,
and oil was dripping from the woven fabric.
Just as Phaeacian men have special talent
for launching ships to sea, the women there
are expert weavers, since Athena gave them
find minds and skill to make most lovely things.

6c. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 7.232-239:

The dishes from the feast
were cleaned up by the slaves. White-armed Arete
had noticed his fine clothes, the cloak and shirt
she wove herself, with help from her slave girls.
Her words flew out to him as if on wings.
“Stranger, let me be first to speak to you.
Where are you from? And who gave you those clothes?
I thought you said you drifted here by sea?”

7. Attic black-figure drinking cup (kylix), c. 560-525 BCE in the Boston MFA. Circe (?) stands in the centre of this scene, stirring and offering a cup to one of Odysseus’ (?) companions, in the middle of transforming: his head is a boar, his hands are still human. Seems to depict Odyssey 10.228-251, with some differences.

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8. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 10.229-244:

They shouted to her. She came at once,
opened the shining doors, and asked them in.
So thinking nothing of it, in they went.
Eurylochus alone remained outside,
suspecting trickery. She led them in,
sat them on chairs, and blended them a potion
of barley, cheese, and golden honey, mixed
with Pramnian wine. She added potent drugs
to make them totally forget their home.
They took and drank the mixture. Then she struck them,
using her magic wand, and penned them in
the pigsty. They were turned to pigs in body
and voice and hair; their minds remained the same.
They squealed at their imprisonment, and Circe
thew them some mast and cornel cherries — food
that pigs like rooting for in muddy ground.

9. Homer, Odyssey (8th c. BCE), 10.301-309:

The bright mercurial god
pulled from the ground a plant and showed me how
its root is black, its flower white as milk.
The gods call this plant Moly [=μῶλυ]. It is hard
for mortal men to dig it up, but gods
are able to do everything. Then Hermes
flew through the wooded island, back towards
high Mount Olympus. I went in the house
of Circe. My heart pounded as I walked.

English translations: Homer’s Odyssey, Emily Wilson (2018).

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