Since the beginning of time man has looked up at the night sky and wondered about the stars. These points of light were once a mystery. Before man discovered all we know today about the stars and planets, they used the constellations to tell a story. Constellations are like a dot to dot puzzle. People connected the stars to form pictures of their gods. They also created some wonderful, mythical stories to go along with these heavenly pictures.
The myths of the constellations are tales about gods and monsters as well as villains and heroes. One may think that people don’t rely on these stories anymore, but if they look closely, they just might find them sneaking into everyday life. For example, the 12 zodiac signs heard of when people talk about horoscopes have their origins in the constellations.
As scientists and astronomers have learned more about the universe, we look at the stars in a much different way.
Even so, the legends, gods, and myths associated with these tiny points of light that spread across the evening sky are still quite fascinating.
When it comes to Aries, there are two distinctly different stories associated with the name. One is the myth of Aries the Ram while the other is the story of the Greek god named Ares. When referring to the god, Aries is often spelled “Ares.” The zodiac sign of Aries is a combination of the two stories.
Ares is found in Greek mythology as a god of war. He had a sister named Athena. Athena was a goddess of war, but she wasn’t exactly like her brother. She was a very disciplined and strategic goddess while her brother was destructive and chaotic. Greeks used Ares and Athena to represent the two sides of war. One god had well thought out and specific plans while the other was sporadic with little organized planning. Greeks felt that one side of war was calculated and planned while the other side could be out of control.
Ares was well known as having a lust for blood. In other words, his thoughtless aggression and chaotic behavior often resulted in others getting hurt or losing their lives. Some of these characteristics of Ares, although not as intense, have become associated with people born under the sign of Aries the Ram. These people are often thought to be spontaneous, daring, and courageous as well as impatient.
Aries the Ram is a constellation that can be seen from Earth. The Greeks thought this group of stars made the shape of a ram’s head. The mythology behind Aries comes from a story about Jason and the Argonauts. Jason went on a quest in search of Aries the Ram’s Golden Fleece. He needed it to prove that he was the rightful king of Iolcus. His uncle, Pelias, had taken the throne even though it wasn’t his to rightfully take. In order to remain the king, Pelias kept Jason’s father imprisoned. He would have killed Jason, but Jason’s mother pretended he was already dead. Once he came of age he tried to reclaim the throne. He was sent on a series of quests to prove his worthiness, and finding the Ram’s Golden Fleece was one of the tasks included in the challenge.
Although Aries the Ram and the Greek god Ares have the same name, they have nothing to do with each other. They both come from Greek mythology, but Ares the god was often seen in the form of a vulture or dog when pictured as an animal. There is one story where he turned into a boar. He was in love with Aphrodite, but the beautiful Adonis was also in love with her. He used the form of a boar to kill Adonis, but he never turned into a ram. This is one of the most famous stories of Ares. Many of his tales are pretty much the same as the stories of Roman mythology’s Mars. Many consider them to be the same god.
The myth of the constellation Taurus is a classic tale of how evil can be turned to good. According to the myth, once upon a time there was a bull named Cerus. Cerus was a very large and powerful bull, and he wandered about freely. The villagers were all terrified of him. This was because he would trample the village to bits for no apparent reason. No one owned him, and nobody knew where he had come from. He wasn’t immortal, but many of the farmers thought he was simply because of how huge and strong he was. Plus, no one could seem to stop him. So, he continued to bring destruction to the village.
Cerus allows his emotions to decide how he behaves. This makes him one out of control bull. One spring day he was stomping through a field of freshly bloomed flowers. This is where Persephone, the spring goddess, found him. Even though a bull cannot speak, Cerus appears to be able to understand her. She has a calming effect on the bull. The two form a bond, and Cerus learns how to behave himself. The spring goddess teaches him how to wisely use his strength and to be patient.
The myth tells of how every spring after that, Persephone returns to the village where Cerus joins her. She rides on his back as he runs across the land, and she brings all of the plants to bloom as they pass by. Persephone returns to Hades each fall, and Cerus the bull returns to the sky where he becomes the constellation Taurus.
The myth of Taurus can also be interpreted as the story of Zeus and the Phoenician princess Europa. In this tale, Zeus disguises himself as a snow white bull with mother-of-pearl tusks to win the heart of Europa. Although he loved her, Zeus knew that his godly appearance would frighten the princess. This is why he decides to go to her in disguise.
Europa spots the regal bull one day as she is by the water’s edge. He stands out among the other bulls in her father’s herd. As she approached the creature, it kneeled before her. The bull allowed the princess to climb on to his back. Once she did this, it jumped to its feet and began to walk towards the sea. As soon as the bull reached the beach, it ran into the water. It was too late for the princess to climb down. Zeus carried her to the isle of Crete where he turned back into his original form.
The Greek god seduced Europa, and he made the princess his mistress. He told her that all of the land was hers now, for as far as she could see. This land became known as Europe. Europa and Zeus had three sons. These sons were Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Sarpendon.
Many constellations have more than one story associated with them. People debate over which myth influenced each one, but Gemini is different. There is only one myth associated with this constellation. Castor and Pollux from Greek mythology are the twins represented by Gemini. These two have the same mother. She is Leda, but they each have a different father. Tyndarus is Castor’s father. He is the King of Spartan, and he is married to Leda. The Greek god Zeus is Pollux’s father. This is why the one brother is immortal while the other is not. As a mortal, Castor will eventually die. Pollux is immortal. This means he will live eternally. The two boys were born from eggs after Zeus had visited Leda disguised as a swan.
The two brothers were twins even though they had different fathers. When they were young, they were handsome as well as adventurous. They enjoyed many adventures together, and they were known for their curiosity and lively ways. Pollux had great strength. Castor was an excellent horseman. He competed in and won many Olympic Games. Other athletes worshipped him as a god. They had a beautiful sister. She was Helen of Troy, the same one that the great Trojan War was fought over. The boys fought in this war, and they were Argonauts who joined in the quest for the Golden Fleece. It was after the quest when they found themselves involved in a fight between to other young men. It led to a horrible battle where Castor was killed.
Castor dies because he is a mere mortal. Pollux is extremely upset about this. They had spent their entire lives together, and now he was left alone. He did not want to go on without Castor, but because he was immortal, there was nothing he could do about it. He goes to his father, Zeus, and begs for help. Zeus had a decision to make. He decided that he did not want to kill Pollux so he could be with his brother. Instead, he makes Castor immortal. The two brothers were then able to stay together forever as Gemini, the constellation.
Cancer is most commonly remembered for a simple myth. In this version, Cancer was a giant crab that was stepped on by Hercules while fighting the Hydra. Cancer was killed. It is so simple of a story that one may pity poor Cancer. According to the story, he pinched Hercules toe. Hercules crushes him in response, and that’s the end of Cancer. This telling of the myth explains the constellation by saying that Hera the Greek goddess feels bad so she puts him in the sky. This is a pretty dull myth. It lacks the adventure found in others. Fortunately, there is a livelier version of the myth of Cancer.
The other version of this myth tells of a giant crab called Crios. He was a guard of the sea nymphs in Poseidon’s kingdom. Crios was quite large and strong, and Poseidon blessed him with the wonderful gift of immortality. Poseidon, as well as many of the other Greek gods, went into hiding when Typhon, the god of monsters, terrorized Olympus’s gods. Crios was left in charge of protecting Poseidon’s daughters that were the sea nymphs.
Crios took his job as their protector very seriously. He would not let the sea nymphs out of his reach. It wasn’t long before the sea nymphs became restless. They were sure that the danger of Typhon was over. They made an escape into the open sea. Crios still had to keep the other sea nymphs protected. This meant he couldn’t go after Poseidon’s daughters. He asked a giant squid named Vamari to help. He was not aware that this squids name translates into “Vampire Squid” or that Vamari had ill intentions. Vamari did catch the escaped sea nymphs, but he also devoured them.
Vamari returned to Crios, and he told him that although he tried his best, he did not find the missing nymphs. Crios immediately knew this was a lie, and he attacked Vamari. The battle lasted for hours, but Crios eventually won. It was a victory for him, but he paid a price. He was severely crippled. As an immortal, he was forced to suffer in pain without ever dying. When he returned home, Poseidon realized how brave Crios had been. Poseidon relieved him of his pain while maintaining his immortality by placing him in the sky.
The myth of the constellation Leo tells a complicated story. It is also known as the myth of Leo the Lion. The story is usually credited with being a part of the ancient tale of Hercules and his 12 trials. It was Hercules first trial where he was given the task of finding and then killing the Nemean Lion. This lion was enormous as well as powerful, and his hide could not be penetrated. Hercules does not realize the lion’s hide is so tough. He tries to kill it by shooting arrows at it. This does nothing more than to make the lion very angry.
Hercules tries something else. Instead of running away, he charges at the Nemean Lion. The lion quickly dashes inside of his cave. This cave has two entrances. Hercules manages to block the entrance, run inside, and use a club to hit it over the head. The lion is stunned, and Hercules takes advantage of the situation by choking it to death with his bare hands.
Hercules trial isn’t over yet. He still has to bring the Nemean Lion’s pelt to King Eurystheus to prove his victory. He attempts to cut the pelt off of the lion’s body before he realizes it is impenetrable. He tries several methods. Hercules eventually comes to the conclusion that the only thing that will cut the pelt is the lion’s very own claws. Hercules uses the claws of the lion to skin it. He returns to Eurytheus with the pelt, but keeps it for himself to make armor out of it.
It is often mentioned in several of the versions of this myth that at this point the connection to Leo is made. Either Hera or Zeus decided to create the constellation. The explanation as to why they do this is unclear. Some legends simply assume the constellation is in honor of Hercules, but this doesn’t make much sense. Ascending to the stars is an honor that the Nemean Lion would not deserve. The following story seems to be the best explanation.
Hera has shown up throughout Greek mythology as a godmother of sorts of many of the great monsters. This includes the Nemean Lion. Hera was the one that begged Tartarus and Gaia to create Typhon. Typhon is the lion’s father. Some versions of the legend tell of Hera, along with the moon goddess Selene, nursing the Nemean Lion. This shows that the lion had a stronger connection to Hera than Zeus. In fact, the lion got its name after Hera sent it to Nemea to live. She did this because she was angry with Zeus. Nemea was where the shrine to Zeus was located. With the indestructible lion there, it was almost impossible for anyone to go and worship Zeus.
This explanation helps explain the constellation Leo. Hera felt guilty that the lion was hunted down and killed. She may even have taken pity on it. She decided to allow the Nemean Lion to live among the stars next to Selene who had always adored him.
The myth of the constellation Virgo is one of the hardest to understand. This is because Virgo does not represent one single story or even one single mythology. Virgo’s tale spans Greek mythology as well as Babylonian and Roman mythology. Along with being a combination of several different takes on her claim to fame, many people misunderstand her name. Most assume she is a fertility goddess due to the name Virgo being similar to the word “virgin.” She is considered a fertility goddess in the sense of making crops fruitful, but she has very little to do with the growth of mankind.
Although many people do assume that Virgo refers to the word “virgin, the Latin definition of the word “virgo” means self-contained or self-sufficient. According to astrology, those who are born under the sign of Virgo are individualistic and self-sufficient. Their ability to nurture comes from the idea of not needing others for fulfillment. They find it easy to fulfill others because they have already created fulfillment for themselves. Virgo should refer to a nurturing type of person.
By taking a look back across the history of the Virgo myth according to several cultures, one can see how differently a great goddess can be viewed. Several of the goddesses referred to as Virgo were looked upon as fertility goddesses. They were goddesses of the harvest. This shows Virgo as a caretaker for mankind through her gift of fertility. The constellation of Virgo is seen as a woman that is holding a piece of corn. This reinforces the idea of her being a harvest mother in mythology.
In the most popular Greek myth involving Virgo the seasons are explained. Persephone, the goddess of spring, is kidnapped by Hades. He is the god of the underworld. Once her mother, the goddess of the harvest, finds she is missing, she ruins the harvest out of despair. In the end, Persephone is allowed to return to the world for six months out of each year. During this time she is to aid her mother with the harvest. This tale coincides with Virgo the constellation being visible from March until August.
The Babylonian mythology story of Ishtar is quite similar. The exception is that Ishtar’s husband, Tammuz the god of harvest, is taken to the underworld. She follows him only to find herself trapped as well. Other female figures of mythology that represented Virgo include Astraea and Dike from Greek mythology and Erigone from Roman mythology. These females represented justice rather than being associated with the harvest season. This makes some sense when you realize that Libra with her scales of justice follows Virgo in the zodiac.
The first incarnation of Virgo comes from Babylonian mythology. This would be Nidoba the grain goddess. This version is consistent with the idea of Virgo being a life giving care taker as well as a self-sustaining figure. Over time Babylonian people turned their worship towards Nabu. Nabu was a god of justice and wisdom, once again tying together the idea of harvest and justice as a symbol of Virgo.
One cannot discuss the myth of the constellation Libra without referring to the myth of Virgo. Virgo and Libra are connected in a way no two other constellations are. Much of this has to do with the debate over exactly what Virgo represents, but to completely understand Libra, one needs to know that Astraea the Star Goddess is the figure in the Virgo constellation. The constellation of Libra is a set of scales. These scales belong to Astraea.
This causes much debate over both constellations. If the scales used to represent Libra are Virgo’s, Virgo has to be associated with justice. The problem is that many people think of Virgo as a virgin, and this has nothing to do with justice. To keep things from getting to confusing, one needs to learn more about the Libra mythology.
There is no doubt that the symbol used to represent Libra in the constellation is a set of scales. Everyone also agrees that the scales are a sign of justice. These scales can even represent temperance and balance along with the dark side of the astrology related to Libra. The dark side is the opposite of temperance and balance. Those born under the sign of Libra need to keep balance and not give in to the chaos surrounding them.
All of this information helps to tie the constellation of Libra in with Virgo. Astraea was known as a virgin goddess of justice that served as a caretaker of humanity. The caretaker label refers to the true meaning of “Virgo.” Virgo’s figure that is holding the corn is Astraea. The scales of justice found in Libra are hers, and they glide along by her side. This keeps the two constellations and their stories connected.
Astraea was an important goddess in Greek mythology. She is referred to as the Star Goddess or Star Maiden, but she is most recognized as having been the last immortal to have lived on Earth among the humans. She eventually left due to the disgust of humanity’s wickedness and brutality.
No one knows for sure who her parents are. They were either Eos and Astraeus or Zeus and Themis. She is usually shown as having wings and carrying a torch along with the scales of justice. She helped Zeus in battle, and she is sometimes seen carrying his lightning bolts. Many people believe it is Astraea’s likeness that is found on the justice tarot card. On the card’s artwork she is shown standing next to Zeus’s throne while holding his thunderbolts and a torch. The name “Astrape” appears above her image.
Astraea is most commonly thought of as the goddess of justice, but she can also be referred to as the virgin goddess. It is thought that she took the Golden Age of Man with her when she left for the heavens in disgust. Once mankind realized what they had done wrong, they wished for her return to Earth. They were hoping she would bring back the Golden Age. Astraea may not be one of the more well-known gods or goddesses, but she appears in many Greek epics, throughout English literature, and in poems such as the one by Ralph Waldo Emerson which bears her name.
The myth of the constellation Scorpio comes from the story of Scorpio versus Orion. Orion was the son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. He was a great hunter, and he knew it. His boastful ways often irritated the other gods. This eventually became his downfall as well as the reason for the Scorpio constellation.
Orion was Eos’s lover. She was the goddess of dawn. Orion liked to boast about his conquest of Eos which made her very angry. Orion continued to brag about what a great hunter he was as well. He claimed that he was going to kill all of the creatures on Earth. Normally, Artemis, the Greek hunting goddess, would have been offended by this claim of superior hunting skills. She would have put anyone else in their place quickly, but she had a huge crush on Orion. She thought he was charming.
Apollo, the sun god and god of the animal herds, was Artemis’s brother, and he did not appreciate Orion’s claim. Gaia, the great Earth goddess, didn’t like Orion’s boasting either. Apollo and Gaia discussed the situation, and they decided Orion had to go. To accomplish this, Gaia made a giant scorpion called Scorpio that would hunt its hunter. Once Orion caught wind of this, he knew he would lose. He decided to run, but Scorpio chased after him.
There are two different endings to this myth. One states that Scorpio killed Orion. The other says that Artemis thought she was shooting at Scorpio in order to save Orion, but she actually shot Orion by accident. Orion dies in both versions. Zeus had watched all of this play out. He is the god that placed Scorpio and Orion in the sky as constellations. He made sure they were 180° apart to ensure that they could not continue to fight.
Sagittarius is often misinterpreted just like Virgo is. Most stories come to the conclusion that the myth of the constellation Sagittarius is the tale of the centaur Chiron. Centaurs are considered beasts in mythology due to the fact that they are half horse. Ancient Greeks on the other hand had tremendous respect for horses. They were hesitant to make centaurs completely bad. This led to Chiron becoming a well-known centaur for his gentle ways. He was an accomplished archer, physician, musician, and he tutored Jason, Achilles and Hercules.
Hercules accidentally shot Chiron and wounded him. The arrow had been dipped in a poison that inflicted suffering on the centaur. Even Chiron, a great physician, could not find a cure for his own great suffering. As an immortal, Chiron would not be able to escape the pain with death. Instead, he decided to offer himself as Prometheus’s substitute. Prometheus was being punished for giving man fire. He was chained to a rock where an eagle came each day and devoured his liver. Every night the liver grew back. Jupiter had agreed to Hercules’ request that if a substitute for Prometheus was found, he could be released. Chiron took Prometheus’s place, and he gave up his immortality. Jupiter placed him among the stars as a reward for his goodness.
This story is the myth behind a constellation, but it is not Sagittarius. Contrary to what many believe, it is actually the tale of the constellation Centaurus. Sagittarius actually refers to Crotus. Crotus was a satyr that lived with the muses on Mount Helicon. He had the legs and the horns of a goat with the torso and head of a human. Much like Chiron, Crotus was a highly skilled hunter and musician. He is credited with inventing the bow in Greek mythology.
Crotus was the son of Eupheme and Pan. His mother had nursed the muses that he lived with. Along with being the first to hunt with a bow and arrow, he introduced applause. Crotus was devoted to the muses’ arts. He would slap his hands together when they sang. This became a sign of acclaim that was preferred over verbal praise. The muses commemorated Crotus’s diligence by asking Zeus to find him a place among the stars. This becomes the constellation Sagittarius.
One can easily see how Sagittarius and Centaurus can often be confused. They have a lot in common. Both satyrs and centaurs are known to be rowdy, wild, and lustful creatures with little respect for proper manners or authority. Chiron and Crotus are both exceptions to their breeds. They are gifted when it comes to the sciences and arts, and both were polite and knowledgeable to humans. They look similar, and they both hunt with a bow and arrow. Each one has the torso and head of a human with the lower half of a beast. Centaurs had four legs while Satyr’s had two legs.
The zodiac sign of Capricorn is commonly seen as either a sea-goat or regular goat. A sea-goat has the front half of a goat with the tail of a fish. Both creatures are appropriate when finding a symbol for Capricorn. The story of Capricorn involves both.
The myth begins with Pricus. He is a sea-goat and the father of the entire race of these creatures. Sea-goats are known for their intelligence and honor. They live in the waters of the sea close to the shore. They think and speak, and the gods favor them. Pricus is connected to Chronos, the god of time. Chronos created Pricus, and they both have the ability to change time.
The myth of the constellation Capricorn starts with Pricus’s children. These young sea-goats figure out how to get up on the shore. They are naturally drawn to the land. His children use their front legs that resemble a goat’s to drag their body onto the sandy shore where they can enjoy the sunshine. The more time they spend on shore, the more they resemble a regular goat. As they evolve, they lose their fish tails. The tails become rear legs, and they can no longer speak or think. They have pretty much turned into the goats we have today.
This is very upsetting to Pricus. He becomes determined to keep his children from going on to the shore. He is afraid that if they continue to do this, the young sea-goats will never return to the water. They will become mindless land animals. After the loss of several children to land, Pricus uses his ability to turn back time. This forces his young sea-goats to come back to the sea. Everything except Pricus goes back to where it was before. Pricus is the only one unaffected.
Being able to remember the young sea-goats going ashore and evolving, Pricus tries to tell them what will happen. He forbids his children to set foot on land, but no matter what he tries, the sea-goats continue to find their way on shore where they become regular goats. He makes several attempts to reverse time and change their minds, but it doesn’t work.
Pricus finally comes to the realization that he won’t be able to control his children’s destiny. He knows that attempting to keep them in the sea simply will not work, no matter how often he “starts over.” He resigns himself to the idea of being alone, and he stops reversing time. Instead, he allows the young sea-goats to live out their destiny. Feeling miserable, Pricus asks Chronos to allow him to die. He cannot imagine being the only sea-goat left behind. Chronos does not fulfill his request, but he does grant him the ability to live immortally in the sky. This becomes the constellation Capricorn. As Capricorn, Pricus can watch over his children from the stars.
The myth of the constellation Aquarius tells the tale of Ganymede. He was a young prince that was regarded as Troy’s most beautiful young man. He worked as a shepherd of sorts as many young heroes of the day did until their destiny was revealed. He tended herds for his family on Mount Ida in a grassy area. Ganymede was looking after his father’s sheep there one day when he was spotted by the Greek god Zeus.
One has to understand that during the time of ancient Greece, it was a social normality for an older man to take a young man aged 12 to 19 as their lover. In Ganymede’s story, he was approximately 15 years of age when Zeus found him. Zeus thought the boy was irresistibly beautiful, and he decided he wanted the young man for himself.
Disguised as a giant eagle, Zeus swooped down to Mount Ida from Mount Olympus. He used his talons to snatch up Ganymede and carry him back to Mount Olympus. It was here that Zeus intended Ganymede to stay and be his lover and servant. In these social situations the older man often played the part of a mentor to the young boy, but this was the Greek god Zeus. He gets exactly what he wants. Zeus decides to make Ganymede his own personal cup bearer. Ganymede will bring Zeus drinks whenever the god pleases.
Ganymede essentially becomes a slave to Zeus. Zeus needs to offer a gift for Ganymede’s father to compensate for taking the boy away. He decides on a herd of the finest horses available in the land. This was more of a gesture of common courtesy, as the father probably wouldn’t have been able to say anything against the Greek god.
Ganymede was not as pleased with this situation. He had had enough so he decided that he would pour out all of the ambrosia, wine, and water of the gods. He also refused to stay on as Zeus’s personal cup bearer any longer. The myth says that all the water fell to Earth as it was poured out. It caused many days of inundating rains, and it resulted in massive flooding that covered the entire world.
Zeus’s first thought was to punish Ganymede for this behavior, but after much thought, he realized he had been rather unkind to the young man. He decided to make Ganymede immortal in the form of the constellation Aquarius.
The myth of the constellation Pisces tells only one basic tale. There is nothing to debate when it comes to the general idea of the legend, but there are a few different endings to the story. The Greek myth tells how the monster Typhon descended upon Mount Olympus. He threatened all of the Greek gods and goddesses. This caused them to run from their home. As Typhon nears, Aphrodite and her child Eros realize they need a way to escape. Eros is depicted in Roman mythology as Venus and Cupid.
This is the place in the story where one can decide which ending they want. In one version of the myth Aphrodite and Eros turn into fish, and they swim safely away. The other version still has them turning into fish, but two other fish come and take them to a safe place. Either version works. They are very similar, and Aphrodite and Eros escape from Typhon safely due to the help of two fish.
The two fish were later placed in the sky as the constellation Pisces to honor them. This makes one believe that there were two more fish in this myth other than Aphrodite and her son because during Typhon’s attack on Mount Olympus, many of the other Greek gods took on the form of animals in order to escape. Jupiter became a ram, Apollo was a crow, and Diana took the form of a cat. None of these gods were given the honor of being a constellation.
The myth of Pisces always makes reference to two fish. Some versions of the escape from Typhon describe the tails of these two fish having been tied together. This was done so that they would not lose one another. The Pisces constellation shows two fish with the tails tied together.
Syrian mythology has a similar tale of two fish that were called the Ikhthyes. In this story they are said to have rescued Aphrodite and Eros. Later on, a similar myth surfaced that told of a mysterious, large egg that appeared on the Euphrates River. It was here were two fish named Aphros and Bythos found the egg and brought it to shore where they could help it hatch. Aphrodite was inside of the egg as Ashtarte, her Syrian counterpart. The two fish in this version of the story are often depicted in classical art as men with fish tails.
All of these stories involve some type of fish saving some version of Aphrodite from the Euphrates River. Each tale also has the helpful fish turned into the constellation of Pisces. This legend also explains the Syrian tradition of not eating fish. There has been some debate as to the relevance of the Pisces mythology in Christian beliefs where the fish is often seen as symbolizing Jesus Christ, but in this case, the fish is referring to the story of the “Loaves and Fishes Miracle.”
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