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  1. #61
    CC Grandmaster Capablanca-Fan's Avatar
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    Exclamation Busting myths about the Middle Ages (moronically called the "Dark Ages")

    How the Middle Ages Really Were
    Tim O'Neill (himself an atheist), on the leftist Huffington Post, 8 September 2014

    Introduction - Myths about the Middle Ages

    1. People thought the earth was flat and the Church taught this as a matter of doctrine.

    In fact, the Church did not teach that the earth was flat at any time in the Middle Ages. Medieval scholars were well aware of the scientific arguments of the Greeks that proved the earth was round and could use scientific instruments, like the astrolabe, the accurately measure its circumference. The fact that the earth is a sphere was so well known, widely accepted and unremarkable that when Thomas Aquinas wanted to choose an objective fact that is not able to be disputed early in his Summa Theologica he chose the fact that the earth is round as his example.

    2. The Medieval Church suppressed science and innovative thinking and burned scientists at the stake, setting back progress by hundreds of years.

    Far from being persecuted by the Church, all of the scientists of the Middle Ages were themselves churchmen. Jean Buridan de Bethune, Nicole d’Oresme, Albrecht of Saxony, Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Thomas Bradwardine, Theodoric of Fribourg, Roger Bacon, Thierry of Chartres, Gerbert of Aurillac, William of Conches, John Philoponus, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton and Nicholas of Cusa were not only not persecuted, suppressed or burned at the stake, but were honoured and renowned for their learning and wisdom.

    Contrary to the myth and to the popular misconception, there is not one single example of anyone being burned at the stake for anything to do with science in the Middle Ages, nor is there any example of science being suppressed by the Medieval Church. The Galileo Affair came much later (Galileo was a contemporary of Descartes) and had far more to do with the politics of the Counter Reformation and the personalities involved than anything to do with the Church’s attitude to science.

    3. In the Middle Ages millions of women were burned by the Inquisition as witches and witch burnings were a common occurrence in Medieval times.

    Actually, the “Witch Craze” was not a Medieval phenomenon at all. Its heyday was in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries and was an almost exclusively early Modern affair. For most of the Middle Ages (ie the Fifth to Fifteenth Centuries) not only did the Church not bother pursuing so-called witches, but its teaching was actually that witches did not even exist.

    4. The Middle Ages was a period of filth and squalor and people rarely washed and would have stunk and had rotten teeth.

    The fact that Medieval literature celebrates the joys of a hot bath, the Medieval knighting ceremony includes a scented bath for the initiatory squire, ascetic hermits prided themselves on not bathing just as they prided themselves on not enjoying other common pleasures and soap makers and bath-house keepers did a roaring trade shows that Medieval people liked to keep clean. The idea that they had rotten teeth has also been shown to be nonsense by archaeology. In a period in which sugar was an expensive luxury and in which the average person’s diet was rich in vegetables, seasonal fruit and calcium, Medieval teeth were actually excellent. It was only in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century that cheaper sugar from the West Indies flooded Europe and caused an epidemic of cavities and foul breath.

    5. The Medieval period was a technological ‘dark age’ and there were few to no advances in technology until the Renaissance.

    So far from being a technological dark age, the Medieval period actually saw many important innovations in technology and several of them - eye glasses, the mechanical clock and the printing press - are amongst the most important inventions of all time.
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

  2. #62
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Actually it is a myth that the Middle Ages are called the Dark Ages.

    The Dark Ages usually refers to the Early Middle Ages, the period from (say) the 5th to 9th centuries; whereas the Middle Ages (or Medieval Period) continued on to around the 15th century.

    Much of what Tim O'Neill says is true the Churches persecution of witches and scientists mainly occurred in (and indeed it was a conservative reaction to) the Enlightenment.
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

  3. #63
    CC Grandmaster Capablanca-Fan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rincewind View Post
    Actually it is a myth that the Middle Ages are called the Dark Ages.

    The Dark Ages usually refers to the Early Middle Ages, the period from (say) the 5th to 9th centuries; whereas the Middle Ages (or Medieval Period) continued on to around the 15th century.
    Some referred to the entire medieval period as "the Dark Ages", starting with Petrarch in the early Renaissance, so it is hardly a "myth". Other times it is restricted to the Early Middle Ages as you say. But responsible historians dispense with the term altogether. Even in those times there was the Carolingian Renaissance with a vital reform of writing, the Carolingian Minuscule, which has rounded letters and spaces between words. Later the Italian Renaissance borrowed this, thinking it was Classical.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rincewind View Post
    Much of what Tim O'Neill says is true the Churches persecution of witches and scientists mainly occurred in (and indeed it was a conservative reaction to) the Enlightenment.
    At least gets the period right, because as he points out, in the Middle Ages, the church denied the existence of witches.
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

  4. #64
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    The Renaissance Myth
    James Franklin (now Professor, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of New South Wales)
    Quadrant 26 (11):51–60, November 1982

    THE HISTORY OF IDEAS is full of more tall stories than most other departments of history. Here are three which manage to combine initial implausibility with impregnability to refutation: that in the Middle Ages it was believed that the world was flat; that medieval philosophers debated as to how many angels could dance on the head of a pin; that Galileo revolutionised physics by dropping weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. None of these stories is true, and no competent historian has asserted any of them, but none shows any sign of disappearing from the public consciousness.

    The tales about the medieval thinkers and Galileo are little lies. The big lie of which they are the foothills is the Renaissance.

    The main elements of the Renaissance myth are familiar enough: the sudden dawning of a new outlook on the world after a thousand years of darkness, the rediscovery of ancient learning, the spread of new ideas of intellectual inquiry and freedom, investigation of the real world replacing the sterile disputes of the scholastics, the widening of the world through the discovery of America and the advance of science, the reform of religion. Apart from a few quibbles about the supposed suddenness of the change, and that more on the grounds of a general belief in the gradualness of historical change than because of any evidence, this paradigm seems to be as firmly in place now as it ever was.

    In fact there is no truth in any of this. On the contrary, as we will see, the "Renaissance" was a period when thought declined significantly, bringing to an end a period of advance in the late Middle Ages.

    The main intellectual effort of the Middle Ages was of course expended not on technological subjects but on philosophy and theology. Of the great scholastics, two of the most famous, Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, were roughly contemporaries of Dante. Although the achievements of medieval philosophy are not easy to appreciate, we can understand something of what was done in science, then considered a branch of philosophy. The history of medieval science has only been treated seriously in comparatively recent times, since it suited the theses of most historians that the medieval scholars should have been poring over ancient books instead of examining the real world. Less culpably, an interest in science and skill in medieval Latin are, in the nature of things, rarely conjoined. But with the excellently chosen texts now available in translation in Edward Grant's Sourcebook in Medieval Science, we can see how good the science of the time really was. One thing that becomes clear is that all the best bits come from the period 1250-1350, that is, Dante's lifetime plus a few years either way. By then the best of Greek and Arab science had been translated and absorbed and new discoveries were being made. Until 1300 the most actively cultivated science was geometrical optics, the leading researchers in which were associated with the Papal court of John XXI in the 1270s. The Pope was himself the author of a book on the subject (besides writing best-sellers on logic and medicine), and in fact died in the pursuit of science when the roof of his laboratory collapsed.

    In the next century, it was mechanics that caught the attention of the learned. The importance of this was that the next phase of science and mathematics, represented by Galileo, Descartes and Newton, made its most important discoveries in connection with the motion of bodies. But this was a subject notably absent from the science of antiquity. Motion, and continuous variation in general, seems to have been thought too confusing to be treated rigorously, and there is no suggestion that any kind of measurement might apply to motion. There is no phrase in ancient Greek or Latin equivalent to "kilometres per hour". Even the motion of the planets was treated in terms of the geometry of the heavenly spheres, to which the planets were supposed to be attached. To remedy this situation, what was needed was an identification of continuous variation as a subject and the drawing of some important distinctions between the basic concepts. If there was one thing that medieval philosophy was good at, it was drawing distinctions. The scientists of the Merton School, at Oxford in the 1330s and 1340s, wrote at length on the "intension and remission of forms", that is, the changes of any quantities which could vary continuously. The topic covered the motion of bodies, the gradual change from hot to cold, the variation in brightness over a surface and, according to one of the school, the "intension and remission of certainty with respect to doubt". Their crucial achievement was to distinguish between speed and acceleration, and then between uniform and non-uniform acceleration. They were able to devise what we would express by an equation of uniformly accelerated motion. All this requires mathematical talent of a high order.

    The next (and, as it proved, final), steps taken in this direction were the accomplishments of the last and greatest of the medieval scientists, Nicole Oresme. A remarkably versatile thinker, he wrote on such varied subjects as theology and money, but devoted much of his effort to science and mathematics. He invented graphs, one of the few mathematical discoveries since antiquity which are familiar to every reader of the newspapers. He was the first to perform calculations involving probability. He had a good grasp of the relativity of motion, and argued correctly that there was no way to distinguish by observation between the theory then held that the heavens revolve around the earth once a day, and the theory that the heavens are at rest and the earth spins once a day. He was apparently the first to compare the workings of the universe to a clock, an image much repeated in later ages. Many of his more technical achievements have also been admired by the experts.

    Then everything came to a stop. Given the scientific and mathematical works of Descartes and Galileo, but no chronological information, one might suppose the authors were students of Oresme. Galileo's work on moving bodies is the next step after Oresme's physics; Cartesian geometry follows immediately on Oresme's work on graphs. But we know that the actual chronological gap was 250 years, during which nothing whatever happened in these fields. Nor did any thing of importance occur in any other branches of science in the two centuries between Oresme and Copernicus. Other intellectual fields have no more to offer. Histories of philosophy are naturally able to name philosophers between 1350 and 1600, but their inclusion seems to be on the same principle as world maps which include Wyndham, WA, but leave out Wollongong - big blank spaces must be filled. While it is almost impossible to find an English translation of any philosopher in the three hundred years between Scotus and Descartes, it is not a lack one feels acutely. The intellectual stagnation of those centuries is evident too in the lack of change in the universities: the curriculum which bored Locke at Oxford in 1650 was almost identical to the one which Wyclif found wanting in 1350.

    Why was Oresme's generation the last one for two hundred years able to think? There is an obvious suggestion; it was the last to grow up before the Black Death.

    A particular case of the way that the skill of the Renaissance in art has served to cover up its utter incompetence at anything else is evident in the admiration of many for Leonardo da Vinci. Admirers of the Renaissance have acclaimed him as a type of the Renaissance man; its detractors can, I think, do the same. Like the Renaissance itself, Leonardo was supposed to be good at everything. But on examination, it turns out he had nothing of importance to say on most subjects. Some histories of Italian literature do not mention Leonardo at all; those which do mostly approve his description of himself as a "man without letters" (he could not write in Latin at all), and advise us to look elsewhere for his achievements. Doing so, we find that a standard history of mathematics says "[his] published jottings on mathematics are trivial, even puerile, and show no mathematical talent whatever." Though he had some skill as a military engineer, he does not seem to have made any definite contributions to science or technology. Dreams about helicopters do not constitute great science. But he was a great painter.

    Finally, if the Renaissance was not an age of intellectual brilliance, who put about the myth that it was, and to what end?

    There is one man deserving most of the blame - Petrarch. Though in fact he lived at the time of the Black Death, a century before the Renaissance is usually thought to have begun, he first made most of the claims advanced by later advocates of the Renaissance. He hunted for manuscripts, and claimed to have rediscovered various ancient authors. He imitated Cicero, meaning his style rather than his content. He criticised the university scholars of his day for irrelevant dialectical subtleties and hair-splitting logic, though there is no evidence that he ever tried to understand what they were saying. He is said to have left Venice because some young university philosophers said he was "a good man, but illiterate." In view of his own dictum that "it is better to will the good than to know the truth", they were surely at least half right. Even on his chosen ground, lyric love poetry, it is possible to feel in his work a certain obviousness and lack of sensibility compared with, say, Guido Cavalcanti's Donna mi Prega of fifty years earlier. After writing several hundred sonnets cataloguing Laura's numerous charms and virtues and his own living deaths and delicious pains, he noted the news of her death in his copy of Virgil, in order that he might be constantly reminded of the decay of all earthly goals. He pulled off the century's most amazing propaganda stunt by having himself crowned as poet on the Capitoline Hill, reviving a supposed classical tradition. This was to celebrate, he said, the rebirth of poetry after a thousand years. Even if the troubadour lyrics, the Eddas and the Roman de la Rose had never been written, the idea of someone announcing the rebirth of poetry thirty years after Dante's death is just a disgrace.

    No psychological insight is needed to guess Petrarch's motives in pretending that a thousand years of darkness had ended with himself. But there is something of a puzzle as to why later historians continued to accept the exaggerated account the Renaissance gave of itself.
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

  5. #65
    CC Grandmaster Capablanca-Fan's Avatar
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    MYTHS ABOUT THE MIDDLE AGES
    James Franklin

    There are so many myths about the Middle Ages, it has to be suspected that the general level of "knowledge" about things medieval is actually negative.
    Here are some of the more famous ones.

    In the Middle Ages it was believed the earth was flat.
    There's a whole book devoted to refuting this one: J.B. Russell's Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians[/URL] (New York, 1991) (review; also 'The myth of the flat earth'.)
    The facts are that the Greeks knew the earth was spherical from about 500 BC, and all but a tiny number of educated persons have known it in all times since. Thomas Aquinas gives the roundness of the earth as a standard example of a scientific truth, in Summa theologiae bk. I q. 1 art. 1.

    The scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.
    This has not been found in any scholastic, nor has the allegation been found earlier than in a Protestant writer of 1638. See 'Heads of pins'; further; discussion.
    Aquinas does discuss "whether several angels can be in the same place at the same time" (Summa theologiae bk. I q. 52 art. 3), but that does not quite have the farcical ring of the original.

    An early medieval church council declared (or almost declared) that women have no souls.
    History of the error.

    "In the times of St Thomas it [woman] was considered an essence as certainly defined as the somniferous virtue of the poppy ...St Thomas for his part pronounced woman to be an imperfect man"
    These claims are made in the introduction to Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, one of the founding texts of feminism. Aquinas believes all humans have the same essence. Though not exactly a believer in the equality of men and women, he did not call women imperfect men. details.

    Spices were used to cover up the taste of rotten meat
    Rotten meat with spices is as dangerous as rotten meat without spices ... discussion

    Religious taboos prevented medical dissection of bodies
    Katherine Park's book on late medieval dissection

    The medieval burning of witches.
    Medieval canon law officially did not believe in witches. There were very occasional individual witch trials in the Middle Ages, but the persecution of witches only became a mass phenomenon from around 1500. The height of persecution was in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries ... Wikipedia; resources.

    The Renaissance.
    The thesis that there was a rebirth of learning in Europe in or around the fifteenth century, after a thousand years of darkness, is too diffuse to admit of clear agreement or disagreement. Nevertheless, the claim that the "Renaissance" is almost entirely a beat-up, put about by a gang of anti-Catholic art historians, has much to be said for it. See 'The Renaissance myth'.
    Last edited by Capablanca-Fan; 23-08-2016 at 03:40 AM.
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

  6. #66
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Capablanca-Fan View Post
    Nevertheless, the claim that the "Renaissance" is almost entirely a beat-up, put about by a gang of anti-Catholic art historians, has much to be said for it. See 'The Renaissance myth'.
    A Renaissance myther! Classic!
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

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    Quote Originally Posted by Capablanca-Fan View Post
    The medieval burning of witches.
    Medieval canon law officially did not believe in witches. There were very occasional individual witch trials in the Middle Ages, but the persecution of witches only became a mass phenomenon from around 1500. The height of persecution was in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries ... Wikipedia; resources.
    And the mass persecution of witches happening after the middle ages is a good thing ... why?
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    If the Greeks had no concept of motion, how did Hipparchus measure the precession of the equinox?

    I think Luther and Machiavelli might be considered important thinkers between 1350 and 1600 - Machiavelli is generally regarded as an important philosopher. And then there's the invention of the printing press - also fairly significant!

    And Wikipedia has a whole page devoted to Leonardo's contributions to science and technology!

    EDIT: And how could I forget the mechanical clock and the telescope - along with the printing press, three revolutionary inventions from the Renaissance.
    Last edited by Patrick Byrom; 24-08-2016 at 01:04 AM. Reason: Extra material added.

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    Quote Originally Posted by road runner View Post
    And the mass persecution of witches happening after the middle ages is a good thing ... why?
    Who said it was a good thing? The point is that this was not a major problem in the much-maligned Middle Ages, but became a problem during the overrated Renaissance.
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

  10. #70
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Byrom View Post
    If the Greeks had no concept of motion, how did Hipparchus measure the precession of the equinox?
    Yes, and we know about Ptolemy's Syntaxis/Almagest. But nothing like the Merton Calculators at Oxford.

    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Byrom View Post
    And Wikipedia has a whole page devoted to Leonardo's contributions to science and technology!
    But then don't just count the space, but look what is said:

    Leonardo's approach to science was observational: he tried to understand a phenomenon by describing and depicting it in utmost detail and did not emphasize experiments or theoretical explanation.

    This is stamp-collecting, not science. But in the Middle Ages, the Merton Calculators, Buridan, and Oresme performed experiments and developed mathematical models, including graphs.

    Even a lot of his inventions were only on paper. His anatomical drawings were very good though, because they played to his strengths as an excellent observer and sublime artist.
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

  11. #71
    CC Grandmaster Capablanca-Fan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rincewind View Post
    A Renaissance myther! Classic!
    No refutation offered, I notice, for the documentation in the post above that the Renaissance was a reactionary step, idolizing the Greeks and Romans and ignoring the great advances made in the Middle Ages. E.g. Buridan and Oresme in the 14th century had refuted almost all the arguments that would be thrown at Galileo 250 years later. Yet the Renaissance was the time of much superstition, witch burning, "Renaissance magic", and the Galileo Affair. So why again should we accept Petrarch's self-serving claim that his age was a "rebirth" while the Middle Ages were "Dark Ages"?
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Capablanca-Fan View Post
    Yes, and we know about Ptolemy's Syntaxis/Almagest. But nothing like the Merton Calculators at Oxford.
    But Franklin said that the Greeks didn't understand motion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Capablanca-Fan View Post
    But then don't just count the space, but look what is said: ...
    This is stamp-collecting, not science. But in the Middle Ages, the Merton Calculators, Buridan, and Oresme performed experiments and developed mathematical models, including graphs. Even a lot of his inventions were only on paper. His anatomical drawings were very good though, because they played to his strengths as an excellent observer and sublime artist.
    Perhaps, but Franklin said that Leonardo had made no contributions to technology - which he obviously did. And James Hannam doesn't think that the Merton Calculators performed actual experiments - unlike Galileo, for example.

    But it is amazing that some Medieval Christian scholars had already accepted that Genesis should not be interpreted literally:
    The Medieval Church also did not insist on a purely literal interpretation of the Bible (fundamentalist literalism is a modern and largely American Protestant idea). This meant that it had no problem with seeing aspects of the Bible as purely allegorical and with the exploration of how their symbolic truth relates to the real world. Most people who think of the Medieval period as one where Biblical literalists suppressed original thinking though fear would have a hard time explaining, for example, the work of William of Conches. Way back in the Twelfth Century this scholar, based at Chartres Cathedral, accepted that his audience already understood the creation story in Genesis to be symbolic and went on to interpret it "according to nature'. He proposed how natural forces set in motion by God brought about the form of the heavens and earth as we have them today. He went on to talk about life arising from the primordial mud by the natural action of heat and how it developed from simple early forms. He even talks about how man arose in the same way and how, in theory, some other species of man could arise via natural processes in the same way.

    All these very modern-sounding (even Darwinian) ideas were accepted by Medieval scholars without the slightest problem and the Church had no difficulty with them either - indeed, William of Conches, like all other Medieval scientists - was a churchman.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Capablanca-Fan View Post
    Who said it was a good thing? The point is that this was not a major problem in the much-maligned Middle Ages, but became a problem during the overrated Renaissance.
    Well I suppose as someone's whose wont is to defend the works of Christians, I had expected from you something more interesting than "it happened more recently than you think"!
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    Quote Originally Posted by road runner View Post
    Well I suppose as someone's whose wont is to defend the works of Christians, I had expected from you something more interesting than "it happened more recently than you think"!
    Actually, no I defend acts consistent with the teachings of Christianity. But as usual, the above is a deflection from the issue at hand: the Middle Ages vs the Renaissance.
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Capablanca-Fan View Post
    Actually, no I defend acts consistent with the teachings of Christianity.
    Right, well, Christians should obviously praise witchcraft since their God has use for incantations, blood magic, etc.
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