The literary background to Justin / Trogus 1

di John C. Yardley

The Ancient History Bulletin, 8/2 (1994), pp. 60-70



At some unknown date — but probably around 200 A.D. — Marcus Junianus (or perhaps Junianius) Justinus arrived in Rome from somewhere in the provinces. During a stay in the city — so he tells us in the Preface of his work — he made an abridgement of the Philippic Histories of the Augustan historian Pompeius Trogus (a noted historian-cum-zoologist from Gallia Narbonensis), omitting all that he did not find either intrinsically interesting or else of use for historical examples. In the centuries that followed, the abridgement, conventionally if inaccurately referred to now as Justin's Epitome of the Philippic Histories, eclipsed the original work in popularity, to the extent that Trogus' forty-four original books vanished2 and only Justin's 'version' of the Gallic historian survived. Over the past couple of centuries scholars have argued over the nature of this work, the focus being ever on the relationship of Justin's so-called Epitome to the lost 44-books of Pompeius Trogus.

A recent entrant into the debate was the late Sir Ronald Syme who, shortly before his death, declared that Justin 'presents an anthology', that the 'editor' (i.e., Justin) did not 'tamper unduly with the language of his text' (that is, Trogus' Philippic Histories).3 Elsewhere Syme asserts: 'Justin is a text and raw material for "Quellenforschung" rather than a person.'4 Syme, in fact, was continuing to purvey what had for decades been the orthodox opinion, that Justin is merely a collage of Trogus. 'For the historian Pompeius Trogus the sole direct source of information is conveyed by the selective version made by M. Junianius Justinus. To call it an epitome is a misnomer. In fact, an anthology of instructive passages, as Justin explained in the Preface: "breve velut florum corpusculum feci".'5 Thus Syme, the last person one would expect to take an ancient historian at his word. Syme, in fact, follows in the wake of a long line of scholars going back to the early 19th century, all of them historians, and all wishing to find fragments of the work of the Narbonensian historian in the pages of Justin. All of them, too, vituperating the hapless epitomator — I shall continue to use the term, now sanctioned by convention even if most people do not accept it as accurate — for not having, as it were, put the bits of Trogus together in a way that makes historical sense. Justin is simply a bad historian. He tells in his Preface what his doing — anthologising Trogus — and he can't even do that right.

I must confess, at the outset, that I do not subscribe to the view expressed above. And, I wish to look at Justin as a literary artifact, not as chunks of Trogus carelessly stitched together. For I believe the so-called Epitome of Justin to be an independent work, that is to say that the author, for all that he says in his Preface, is composing a work for his own times, not simply making a kind of Reader's Digest condensed book by leaving bits out. Incidentally, it is, I think, naive to assume that ancient authors when they talk about their own compositions always tell us the truth. Though Horace claims Sappho and Alcaeus as his models, Nisbet and Hubbard make it perfectly clear he is more indebted to Hellenistic poetry.6 The Roman elegists clearly are indebted to Roman comedy, but they mention only Menander. And so on. We can interpret this expression of Justin florum corpusculum, this 'little body of flowers', in not too literal a manner.

In the interests of time, I am simply going to refer to an immensely important article of Paul Jal: 'A propos des Histoires Philippiques: Quelques remarques', REL 65 (1987), 194-209. In this, Professor Jal convincingly demonstrates from a study of cross-references within the so-called Epitome that Justin at least thinks he is writing what we would call a creative work. In fact, let me quote the end of Justin's Preface, where he addresses his (to us unknown) patron: 'This (i.e., the Epitome) I have sent on to you not so much for your information as to receive your criticism'. Criticism of what? Of the elegance or suitability of the passages he has extracted? Surely not. This is Justin's work, based, indeed heavily based, on the history of Pompeius Trogus. In the last sentence of the Preface Justin says his work will secure the approval of posterity once envious criticism has subsided - a bit much if all he's done is produce an anthology. Let me also add in passing that Trogus can fairly safely be dated to about the turn of the era, and I suspect that Justin can, despite Syme, who dates him to about 395, be put in the late second century/early third century - that on the albeit sparse internal evidence, and also on the language, to which this paper is devoted.

We have, then, an author constructing around 200 A.D. a work based on the world history of Pompeius Trogus written two centuries earlier. And what I'm examining are the literary influences on that work. So we may well have two levels of influence here: an earlier one (on Trogus) and a later one (on Justin). I hasten to add that I'm not talking here about the vexed question of historical sources, but what Latin literary influences are to be seen in Justin's language. In fact, I have been using the Phi Latin Disc and an Ibycus computer, simply putting through the computer any collocations of words which seemed to me at all striking, or expressions which seem to recur in the work.7 And I think we can, indeed, see two levels of influence, one on Trogus, and that influence is Livy, and another on Justin, where we shall be concerned with post-Augustan, i.e., post-Trogan authors.

Livian influence will come as no surprise, and it is likely to be the influence of Livy on Trogus. We know that the Gallic historian read Livy: Justin tells us that Trogus criticised Sallust and Livy for putting direct speech into the mouths of characters in their works — Trogus preferred to use indirect discourse. Perhaps however we should not discount altogether the possibility of the influence sometimes being the other way round, i.e., that Trogus influenced Livy.

Instances of Livian expressions in Justin are legion, and in Table I (below) I limit myself to a few taken almost at random from my files. (References in bold face are, as should be clear, to the text of Justin.)


Table I


Justin iii 7. 1. pepigerunt pacem
Livy ix 11. 6; xxiv 29. 7; xxxi 29. 13, 29.16; xxxviii 48. 10, 11
v 2. 11. arbitrum pacis ac belli
Livy viii 2. 3; xxxii 37. 5; xliv 15. 5; cf. xxiv 2. 4
Closest parallel elsewhere: Tac. Ann. xii 60 condiciones pacis et arbitria belli
v 3. 6. insita genti
Livy xxviii 12. 8 insitus genti; xxviii 21. 3 insitae genti virtutis; xxxiii 16. 2 fides insita genti; xxxiii 32. 1 studium insitum genti
Elsewhere: Tac. Hist. v 23
v 4. 2. victoria penes Athenienses fuit (also xli 6. 6 victoria penes Parthos fuit)
Livy iii 24. 9; iv 50. 8; viii 11. 6; xxi 52. 11; xxxi 49. 3; xlii 29. 9.
Not found elsewhere
v 8. 7. insignis hic annus (also xxxii 4. 9; cf. also vi 6. 5)
Livian formula, occurring 10 times: ii 21. 5; iv 12. 6, 44. 13 etc. Seems not to occur elsewhere



Justin ii 7. 6. inter multa egregia.
Only parallel: Livy xxx 30. 4
ii 9. 21. auctor et concitor
Livy xxiii 41. 2 auctor rebellionis Sardis bellique eius haud dubie concitor (concitor is Livian word; Cicero uses concitator)
iii 3. 9. nec sane usquam terrarum
Livy xxii 33. 6 nullius usquam terrarum
iii 3. 11. iure iurando obligat civitatem
Livy v 8. 6 iure iurando inter se obligati
v 1. 9. florentes Atheniensium opes (cf. xviii 6. 1 florentes Karthaginis opes; xxii 6. 3 florentibus Karthaginiensium opibus)
Livy i 2. 3 florentes opes Etruscorum
vi 6. 7. amissa bello repetunt
Livy ii 6. 4 belloque amissa repetenda minaciter fremunt
vii 6. 3. indigne peremptorum (cf. xxvii 1. 10 indigne peremptae)
Livy xxi 16. 2
peremptorum indigne


What is interesting is that the other historian mentioned by Justin as being criticised by Trogus, and the author who is believed by many to have greatly influenced Trogus — I mean, of course, Sallust — figures very rarely in these searches. If he was important for Trogus, then it was not for his language.8

Now Justin. With the loss of so much Augustan and post-Augustan prose, one must proceed warily in ascribing literary influence - especially with the loss of that most important document, the Philippic histories of Pompeius Trogus. It is clear that the major surviving prose authors of the first century knew Trogus even though they do not name him — Valerius Maximus, Velleius Paterculus, Q. Curtius Rufus, Frontinus. (One may add Pliny the Elder, who does mention him by name, but for his de Animalibus not his historical work). This was convincingly demonstrated in 1882 by Herman Crohn in a dissertation entitled De Trogi Pompei apud Antiquos Auctoritate. Crohn set certain passages in these authors — I mean Valerius Maximus, Velleius, et al. — alongside parallel passages in Justin and concluded that the source was Trogus. So convincing was Crohn that, some seven decades later, Seel collected these, and other parallel passages, put them together and called the resulting Teubner text Pompei Trogi Fragmenta (Leipzig, 1956). Well, yes, possibly — unless of course Justin was no ignorant dolt and is, on occasion, himself influenced by the works of these first century authors.

Goodyear went even further in positing Trogan influence. He added an appendix to his article entitled 'On the character and text of Justin's compilation of Trogus'9 (the title is revealing, is it not?). The Appendix he called 'Trogus, Tacitus and Justin', and in it, after advising due caution (e.g., we have lost much Livy and most of Suetonius), Goodyear continues: 'Granted every need for caution, it is still reasonable to ask whether any link appears to obtain between Tacitus and Trogus' Historiae Philippicae, and quite unreasonable to assume, as Cornelius does [Cornelius had in 1888 written a dissertation on Tacitus' influence up to the Renaissance] that only influence of Tacitus upon Justin can be in question.'10 In other words we have that treasure of classical scholars, the lost intermediary who influenced his successors. How boring life would be if we really did have all Callimachus' Aetia! What would students of Augustan poetry find to write about if we had Gallus? And now, to add to Callimachus and Gallus, we have (or rather don't have) Trogus. If a phrase occurs in Tacitus and Justin, blame Trogus; if Suetonius and Justin look similar, that too is Trogus, the common source. And there are many, many resemblances between these authors. I list in Table II (below) just a selection of expressions common to Justin and Tacitus and Suetonius which are not found elsewhere. Well, perhaps, just perhaps, Goodyear is right about Tacitus. But there are so many and such close verbal parallels with Suetonius that I am sure he served as a model for an epitomator.

Table II


Justin xi 3. 8. victoriaeque participes
Only at Suet. Cal. 45. 1, Vesp. 8. 2
xii 4. 3. captivarum consuetudine tenerentur
Only Suet. Tib. 7. 2 Agrippinae consuetudine teneretur
xii 7. 11. prostratam pudicitiam
Pudicitiam prosternere occurs only twice elsewhere, both times in this participial phrase: Suet. Jul. 2. 1 prostratae regi pudicitiae, Tib. 35. 1 matronas prostratae pudicitiae
xvii 3. 16. offensam civium contraxit
Suet. Vesp. 4. 4. gravissimam contraxit offensam
xxi 2. 2. saevitia grassatur
Only Suet. Cal. 34. 1, Nero 36. 1

ix 1. 5. obsidionis mora
Tac. Agric. 22. 2 adversus moras obsidionis
ix 6. 8. variis frustrationibus
Tac. Hist. i 73 Crispinilla variis frustrationibus ... periculo exempta est
xi 9. 14. provolutae genibus
Tac. Ann. xi 30; xii 18; xiv 61 (participial phrase in each case)
xii 14. 1. auctor insidiarum
Tac. Ann. xiv 24 insidiarum ... auctorem
xiv 4. 3. in mea verba ... obstricti
Only Tac. Hist. i 76 in verba Othonis obstricta
xiv 5. 2. muliebri aemulatione
Only Tac. Ann. ii 43
aemulatione muliebri


Now the authors who crop up most often are Apuleius, Aulus Gellius, the Senecas and Quintilian, both the Institutio and the Major and Minor Declamations. Of course, one can trot out the same arguments: "Common source." "Our man didn't know Apuleius, Gellius, the Senecas and Quintilian." "He's a dolt." "He only knew the work he was epitomising" (I'm sorry, I should, following Goodyear, say 'compiling'). "He knew only Trogus - and Apuleius, Gellius, the Senecas and Quintilian all knew Trogus." He certainly was a popular author. Very odd that no one mentions him until the Historia Augusta (at least as a historian - Pliny the Elder mentions only his work On Animals). In the list that follows (Table III), I have assembled a number of parallels from these authors, citing only those which do not occur elsewhere. I have not, incidentally, cited expressions which occur in two or more of these authors. For example, ad instar occurs in both Apuleius and Gellius, and these are also the only authors (apart from Justin) to use the word medela as a metaphor. Again, due caution must be advised. Some of these could be expressions of the time, found only in these authors by the chance of survival. We may note in a number of cases archaisms; not surprising in second century authors. But there are so many and such close resemblances to Apuleius and Gellius that I would suggest that these two were read by and well known to our author.


Table III



Justin iii 4. 3. contra praesumptionem
Met. ix 4 contra vesanam eorum praesumptionem
ix 7. 4. precibus exoratus (also xii 6. 15; xxii 2. 5)
Met. ix 29 multis exorat precibus
xii 7. 6. fiducia religionis Liberi patris
Met. xi 28
fiducia germanae religionis

xii 13. 7. noctem pervigilem
Met. ii 11 in nocte pervigili, x 22 pervigili nocte
xii 14. 9. praegustatae potioni
Met. vii 11 praegustatas ... potiones
xiv 1. 10. fidei sacramenti
Met. iv 11 per fidem sacramenti; iv 21 fidem sacramenti prodidit
xv 4. 15. maiestate numinis
Met. ii 4 maiestate numinis venerabile
xxii 1. 2. principia originis
Pl. ii 26 originis eius principia
xxii 1. 9. perfacundus
Florid. xviii 61
xxii 5. 11. uberior praeda
Met. ix 8 praedam uberrimam
xxii 7. 8. patibulo suffixus est (also xxx 2. 7)
Met. vi 31 patibulo suffigi; x 12
patibulo suffixus est



Justin iii 5. 13. aemulationem mutuam (also xxii 4. 5)
NA xiv 3. 1 aemulationisque mutuae
ix 1. 5. pecuniae commercium
NA xx 1. 41 in pecuniae mutuaticae usu atque commercio
xi 9. 13. complorationem ediderunt
NA xii 5. 3 nullas complorationes ... edebat
xii 6. 16. in ultimam ... barbariam
NA xix 12. 7 ex ultima barbaria
xxi 5. 3. sordidissimum vitae genus
NA vi 11. 4
genus quoddam sordidisimum vitae



Justin i 7. 15. tacita conscientia
Dial. x 13. 2, Ben. iii 10. 2
vii 1. 7. imbrium ... magnitudinem Quaest. Nat. vi 7. 1
viii 1. 2. in mutuum exitium (also xxvii 3. 6)
Quaest. Nat. v 18. 6 in mutuum componit exitium
xi 11. 12. insolentia mirusque ... tumor
Together only in Dial. vii 10. 2, Ep. 87. 35
xii 15. 3. tristioris mentis argumento
Ep. 2. 1
argumentum ... mentis

xii 16. 1. supra humanam potentiam
Dial. xii 8. 4 extra humanam potentiam
xvii 1. 3. vexatarum regionum
Quest. Nat. vi 1. 1 (also on earthquakes)
vexatis ... regionibus



Justin vi 2. 13. aspectu et colloquio
Decl. Maior. v 3 manifestum utrius magis colloquiis, magis laetarer aspectu
vi 6. 10. confessione contenti
Decl. Maior. xix 2 contenta confessione mariti
viii 6. 6. conscientiae pudore
Decl. Maior. iv 5 conscientiae pudorem
xvi 2. 9. mutuae pietatis exempla
Decl. Maior. v 23
mutuae pietatis officia, vii 3 mutua pietate


So far we have, I hope, proceeded with caution. Justin's language reveals many points of contact with that of earlier authors, but these points of contact could conceivably go back to Justin's original, the Philippic histories of Pompeius Trogus, a wonderfully influential work. But now we move into another area of literary influence, and that is poetry. And we'll start with the greatest, with Virgil.

Even before Adolf Sonny's article ('Vergil und Trogus', RhM 41 (1886), 473-80) scholars had already noted Virgilian echoes in the epitome of Justin. But Sonny's was the fullest exposition of Virgilian influence on Trogus. Sonny's thesis was referred to as bizarre in one of the most recent works on Trogus — Heinz-Dietmar Richter's Untersuchungen zur hellenistischer Historiographie: Die Vorlagen des Pompeius Trogus für die Darstellung der nachalexandrischen hellenistischen Geschichte (Frankfurt and Bern, 1987) — but Sonny has been championed by no less a scholar than Goodyear, in two separate articles.11 Goodyear was no fan of our 'epitomator', and it was his low estimate of Justin which led him to attribute the Virgilian influences to Trogus. 'He [sc. Justin] seems to have contributed little, except his blunders and a scattering of synonyms, from the language of his own day, which he substituted consciously or unconsciously for Trogus' words. He had neither the time nor the desire nor the ability to rewrite the historian he so much admired.... If this view is right, it looks unlikely that Justin, to any appreciable extent, sought to improve on Trogus for suffusing his excerpts with a mass of Virgilian tints'.12 Now I am going to suggest that Goodyear's view is not right, but we'll return to that in a moment. In the meantime I think that you will agree from Table IV (below) that it is clear enough that there are Virgilian influences in the Epitome. The list is by no means exhaustive.


Table IV



Justin i 7. 19. uxor mariti sanguine dotata
Aen. vii 318 sanguine Troiano et Rutulo dotabere
ii 12. 3. quae vos, Iones, dementia tenet?
Ecl. ii 69 quae te dementia cepit, Aen. ix 601 quae vos dementia adegit
xi 13. 1. confectum curis Alexandrum somnus arripuit
Aen. vi 520 me confectum curis somnoque
xvii 1. 5. prima mali labes
Aen. ii 97
hinc mihi prima mali labes


Now the question — Justin or Trogus? Certainly Trogus seems to have known Virgil; Servius, commenting on a line of the Aeneid, says de hoc autem loco et Trogus et Probus quaerunt. But I think the case would be weakened if we can detect in Justin echoes of poets living after Trogus, poets such as Lucan, Statius, Seneca and Silius Italicus. Unless, of course, we are going to believe that this Trogus was so popular that he influenced not only Velleius and Valerius Maximus and Seneca and Tacitus and Suetonius, but all the poets of the so-called 'Silver Age' as well.

In Table V (below), I have listed a few of the parallels between these poets and Justin. They will, I hope, persuade you; and since these influence must be attributed to Justin, who obviously knew Lucan, Statius, Seneca et al., then we can be confident that Virgil was in his repertoire as well.



Table V



Justin iv 1. 9. torrens fretum
BC iii 277 fretum torrens
ix 7. 8. stimulis irarum
BC ii 324 irarum movit stimulos (also Statius Theb. x 75 irarum stimulis)
xi 13. 2. somni ... parcior
BC ix 590 somni parcissimus ipse est
xiii 2. 6. partus dubios
BC ix 901
letifica dubios explorant aspide partus



Justin v 11. 9. fraterni belli
Theb. xi 58-9; xi 460 fraterna bella (cf. Prop. i 7. 2 fraternae ... militiae)
vi 7. 4. effetae aetatis
Theb. vi 252 quos effeta domi, quos prima reliquerat aetas
viii 4. 4. crudescente ira
Theb. ii 679-80 irae crudescunt
xii 7. 8. sacros ... ululatus
Theb. ix 434 sacris ululatibus (in Bacchic context, as Justin)
xiv 4. 10. devota capita
Theb. x 794
devotumque caput vilis ceu mater alebam



Justin xii 6. 2. caelo tenus (only instance of tenus in Justin)
Her. O. 316
xii 6. 11. funera remitteret
Tro. 965 remitte funus
xiii 4. 24. fatale munus
Agamemnon 627 (of Trojan horse) Danaumque/ fatale munus duximus
xvi 1. 1. per ubera materna deprecaretur
Her. O. 926 ubera ... materna obsecro
xvi 1. 4. maternae fraudis
Tro. 627 fraude materna abditum/hostem
xviii 6. 5. ituram se quo...urbis fata vocarent
Her. Fur. 396
regni fata te nostri vocent



Justin xi 1. 6. mentis infidae
Only Pun. ii 381 infidas mentes (cf. xvi 22 fidas ... mentes)
But fida ... mente in Curt. viii 3. 7
xiii 3. 8. facinus molirentur
Pun. xi 196 molitur facinus
xviii 6. 3. ferarum more viventes
Pun. ii 501-2 more ferarum viventes (but more ferarum is common hexameter-ending in, e.g., Ovid, Statius and Silius)


Of course Virgil was in his repertoire, because Justin is, if anything, a rhetorical writer — 'plus rhéteur que historien'13, to quote again the words of Professor Jal. The importance of poets for the rhetor is underlined by Quintilian, and practical examples of the use of Virgil in rhetoric are to be sought in Quintilian (or Pseudo-Quintilian)'s Major and Minor Declamations.

I hope I have been able to convince at least a few of you that this much-maligned work of Justin is, if it isn't a perfect historical record, at least the work of an educated man, of a man who knew his Roman poets. I have pointed to three types of influence. One is Livian, and this presumably is the residue of Livian imitation by Pompeius Trogus. Then I have examined some late first and second century prose authors. Here the influence might not be influence at all. Expressions shared by Justin and these authors could simply be expressions current at the time - though I think a case might be made for Justin knowing Suetonius. Finally I have looked at poetic expressions, and here I think we can be pretty sure it is a question of Justin, to use Goodyear's expression, 'suffusing his narrative with poetic tints.'

It is really beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the nature of the Philippic histories — what was it Justin thought he was producing. But I'm going to conclude by going beyond the scope of this paper. I have used Professor Jal's comment that our author is 'more orator than historian'. That, I think, is the key. What interests Justin are sudden reversals of fortune, marvels, fabulous events, scenes that evoke pity. Some of this, presumably, he found in his model, but it is on these features that he has chosen to concentrate. Further, it is noticeable that, in the first sentence of his Preface where Justin first mentions Pompeius Trogus (Praef. 1), the good Vocontian is not a 'scrupulous historian' or an 'accurate recorder of events' or suchlike. No, he is 'a man possessed of an eloquence characteristic of the ancients' (vir priscae eloquentiae). Moreover, the things which Trogus included but which Justin omitted from his epitome are not 'historical events of lesser significance' or whatever - they are things which did not make pleasurable reading or serve to provide a moral (omissis his quae nec cognoscendi voluptate iucunda nec exemplo erant necessaria). The second of these is surely telling. Justin is concerned not with accuracy, or chronology, or sources, but with historical exempla. Also, as has been often observed, there is the whole battery of rhetorical figures which permeate the Epitome: rhetorical questions, loci communes, antithesis and so on. Indeed, I wonder whether that famous expression in Justin's preface — the florum corpusculum — was not chosen because of the long-standing application of the flower-metaphor to oratory (one thinks of Apuleius' Florida). And, as Professor Jal has aptly asked, 'would a genuine epitomator include a whole speech from his original in his work, as Justin does in Book xxxviii where he quotes in its entirety Mithridates' speech to his troops?' The answer is no. This is a work which is essentially rhetorical. I could go even further and suggest that Justin is to Trogus as Florus is to Livy - not an Epitome but a reworking for the orator-in-training. But then I go too far beyond the scope of this paper.



1     With only minor editorial changes, this is the text of a paper presented at the FIEC meeting, Laval University, Quebec City, August 24, 1994. I thank Konrad Kinzl and Waldemar Heckel for advice and encouragement, and SSHRCC for a grant which facilitated this research.

2     Except for the summaries (inaccurately called Prologues) appended to certain MSS of Justin.

3     'The Date of Justin and the Discovery of Trogus', Historia 37 (1988), 358-71.

4     'Trogus in the H.A., some consequences', Institutions, Société et vie politique dans l'empire romain au IVe siècle ap. J.-C., edited by M. Christol, S. Demougin, et al. (Rome, 1992), 14.

5     Ibid. 12.

6     Nisbet and Hubbard, A Commentary on Horace Odes I (Oxford, 1970), xii ff.

7     I must say that my examination has thus far reached only Book xxiii because, unfortunately, our departmental Ibycus broke down during the winter (1993/4), and I was only able to advance to this point thanks to the help of David Packard, who sent me a new CD-Rom reader (and never bothered to send the bill).

8     Which is not to say that the odd Sallustian borrowing does not occur: cf. Justin ii 12. 24 virilis audacia = Sall. Cat. 25. 1; Justin xii 12. 12 contra decus regium = Sall. BJ 33. 1, 72. 2; Justin xxiii 3. 12 rebus supra vota fluentibus = Sall. Hist. frag. 5. 25 (= Servius ad Aen. ii 169).

9     PACA 16 (1982), 1-24.

10     Ibid. 23.

11     See n.9 above; cf. also 'Virgil and Pompeius Trogus', Atti del convegno mondiale scientifico di studi su Virgilio, vol. 2 (Milan, 1984) = Collected Papers 234-44.

12     Goodyear, Collected Papers 236.

13     REL 65 (1987), 199.

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