by William Reaves, edited by Úlfgrim Vílmeiđson
Copyright © William Reaves
The mythic sources that speak of Ull leave us with a mystery, as yet unanswered in the popular presentation of our mythology: the mystery of Ull's paternity. Of Ull, Gylfaginning 31 relates:
"Ull, Sif's son and Thor's stepson, is one. He is such a good archer and ski-runner that no one may rival him. He is beautiful to look upon and he has all the characteristics of a warrior. It is also good to call on him in duels." (Jean Young, tr.)
Snorri calls Thor Ull's stepfather (Skaldskaparsmal 4). He calls Ull, the stepson of Thor, and Sif, the mother of Ull. Snorri seems wholelly unaware who sired Ull, (even as he was ignorant of the nature of Thor's relationship with Egil and the Sons of Ivaldi, as my previous posts indicate) and with good reason. Nowhere in the surviving record is the name of Ull's father directly recorded. We must therefore examine the remaining heathen materials to discover his identity.
In regard to Ull himself, the records are slight. Of the 3 times he is named in the Elder Edda (Grimnismal 5 and 42; Atlakvida 30), only the first provides us with any direct information about Ull:
Grimnismal (Benjamin Thorpe's translation): 4. Holy is the land, which I see lying to Aesir and Alfar near; but in Thrudheim, Thor shall dwell until the powers perish. 5: Ydalir it is called, where Ull has himself a dwelling made. Alfheim, the gods gave to Frey in days of yore as a tooth-gift.
Not surprisingly, Ull's home Ydalir is associated, by textual proximity and topic, with Thor's. Here, Thor's home is said to lie near the Alfar, the Elves. And then, sandwiched in between Thor's home and Alfheim proper, we find Ull's home. Surely, this cannot be by accident. The reference to the elves at the beginning of strophe 4 and the end of strophe 5 indicate a relationship between what lies in between, namely Ydalir. The poet's clear intention is to associate Ull with Thor and the Elves. The connection to Thor is apparent, but heretofore, the connection to the Elves has been overlooked. Nor is this the only such occurance of a connection between Ull and the Alfar.
Ull is said to be a son of Sif. Of Sif, we know that Loki mischeviously cut off her golden hair. Snorri relates this tale in Skaldskapasmal 43. After cutting off Sif's hair, Loki promises to bid "svartalfum," dark-elves, to restore Sif's hair. But in the very next sentence he approaches "dverga," dwarves, known as the sons of Ivaldi ("Ivaldasynir"). Here again we see a connection to "elves," though Snorri is not particularily clear on the subject. At any rate, Sif is associated with the Sons of Ivaldi, whom we have previously seen named Thjazi, Gang, and Idi; as well as Thjazi, Egil, and Idi (the sons of Öl-valdi, All-valdi, or Id-valdi). They make golden hair for her at Loki's request, he needn't coerce them in any way. Seemingly, they aid Sif willingly, as well as providing the gift of a spear to Odin and the ship Skidbladnir to Frey. This would seem to imply goodwill toward the gods.
Interestingly, when Ull is named beside the gods in stophe 42 of Grimnismal ("Ullr and all the gods favor shall have, whoever first shall look to the fire" Thorpe, translation) the reference is immediately followed by a reference to the this myth:
Grimnismal 43 (Thorpe, tr.) "Ivaldi's sons, in days of old, Skidbladnir to form, the best of ships, for the bright Frey, Njord's benign son."
<<The obscure reference in strophe 42 about looking into the fire, may even be a reference to the workings of a smith, but that is uncertain at best.>>
We find many such curious parallels between these Sons of Ivaldi, and the glorious one, Ull, god of the hunt. Skadi, who is Thjazi's (a son of All-valdi) daughter, is called "öndor-gođs," (Haustlaung 7), goddess of the snowshoes, a paraphrase of Ull's own epithet "öndur-ŕss," (Skaldskaparmal 21) the god of the snowshoes (Vigfusson Dictionary, p. 764). Snorri's description of her is amazingly similar to that of Ull's. She "fastens on her snow-skates and takes her bow." (Gylfaginning.24, I.A. Blackwell's translation). Many scholars have noted these similarities, but few can explain the connection.
Like Ull and Skadi, one of the Ivaldi sons-- Egil in particular--- is also described as a ski runner and an archer. In Volundarkvida, Volund, Egil, and Slagfinn run on skis, and hunt. The opening prose of Volundarkvida informs us that the 3 brothers "skridu ok veiddu dyr," skied and hunted beasts. Ideas which are supported by the text of the poem itself. Vilkinasaga 29 & 30 speak of Volund's brother, Egil, as a skilled archer. Elsewhere, the bow is "Egil's weapon," and arrows are "Egil's weapon-hail" (Younger Edda, 422). Saxo relates the tale regarding Toko the archer, and later told of William Tell, of how he shot an apple from his son's head (Book 10). Vilkinasaga tells the same tale of Egil. In another part of Saxo, Toko is accompanied by one Annundus. Volundarkvida 2 informs us that another name of Volund was Annund ("vardi hvitan hals onondar" Codex Reg.). Nor has Saxo forgotten the magic snow-skis. In his account of Toko, Saxo allows him to run down a precipitous mountain slope on skis and save himself aboard a ship. This is an historical account of Ull's own skates:
In chapter 3 of his Danish History, Saxo tells us that Ollerus (A Latinized form of Ull) "was such a cunning wizard that he used a certain bone, which he had marked with awful spells, wherewith to cross the seas, instead of a vessel, and that by this bone, he passed over the waters that barred his way as quickly as if by rowing." (Oliver Elton's translation). In otherwords, Ull was able to skate across open water by means of rune-risted snow-skates. Skadi too is called "saevar beins dis," the dis of the sea-bone.
Thorsdrapa preserves a similar tale in regard to the men from "Idis setr," that accompany Thor across the Elivagar rivers. In strophe 3, the skald says that Grimnir's (Odin's) men, who are called "Gang's warriors" in the next strophe, "measure Endil's meadow with footsteps." As we have seen, Gang is the name of one of Ivaldi's sons, most likely Egil. But where we would expect to find them crossing water, a "Gand-vik," (a "magic bay") the poet says they cross "Endil's meadow." This finds its logical explanation in the paraphrases for ship "Endils andrar," "Endils itrskid," Endil's skis, as well as "Endils eykr," Endils horse. Thus the Elves cross water on their snow-skates (or on horseback?) as easily as they would cross a meadow, on skis. Rydberg speculates that Endil is a contraction of Vendil, Vandil, the suffix of the name Orvandel, "the arrow-worker," which demonstratably is a byname of Egil.
Snorri preserves another trait of these remarkable skates; when not used on his feet, they can serve as a shield. This is demonstrated by a kenning for the shield, "skip Ullar," Ull's ship; and a paraphrase in the Edda says "Ullr atti skip that, er Skjoldr het," Ull owns the ship that is called Shield. In regard to the snow-skate, this may possibly have some relationship to the notion that Hrungnir stood on his shield when Thor came to fight him, and the paraphrases that emminate from it.
In Book 5 of Saxo's Danish History, he makes a curious statement about the Finns. He informs us there that "The Finns, the outermost people of the North, .....are very keen spearmen, and no nation has a readier skill in throwing the javelin. They fight with large, broad swords; they are addicted to the study of spells; they are skilled hunters. ......Riding on curved boards, they run over ridges thick with snow." Here again, we can perceive the Elves. In Volundarkvida, the 3 brothers are said to be the sons of the Finnakonung, the King of the Finns, and the youngest bears the name Slag-finn. They are hunters and snow-skate runners. They are skilled magicians, like Volund and the elves. Not coincidentally, all three of the weapons named can be associated with the sons of Ivaldi: The sons of Ivaldi are said to have created the spear Gungnir for Odin; Volund is said to have created a mighty sword; and Egil is an archer. As Viktor Rydberg demonstrated, the sources show a remarkable consistancy in regard to these characters.
Time and again, what is said of Ull can be related to what is said of Egil. Clearly, there is some connection between these two mythic characters. No one outside of this clan is said to be both a snowskate-runner and an archer, in the whole of Old Norse mythic literature. These traits are alone characteristic of Thjazi's daughter, Skadi; Ull and Egil. It should be noted too that Snorri describes Ull as "beautiful to look upon," a similar description of Egil's brother, Volund in Volundarkvida who is said to have a "white neck" and whose eyes "glitter." (A comparison of Haustlaung and Volundarkvida, reveals the identity of Volund and Thjazi, whose eyes are made into stars, and whose daughter is Skadi). As we know, Egil is said to be Volund's as well as Thjazi's brother--- All signs point to Egil as a likely candidate for Ull's mysterious father.
As the Eddas provide no actual myths regarding Ull, let us turn to the historical documents, which most assuredly are derived from heathen mythic sources, namely Saxo Grammaticus' Danish History. There we find two names that Saxo may well have Latinized from the Old Norse name, Ullr. They are Ollerus (Book 3) and Rollerus (Book 5).
In Book Three, Saxo relates that Odin was once dethroned from power, after it was discovered that he dressed as a woman, and practiced witchcraft to seduce Rind. Loki levels similar charges against Odin in Lokasenna 24, and the courtship of Rind by Odin is outlined in Havamal 97-102, thus this episode is not without mythic foundation. Further on, Saxo says:
"But the gods, whose chief seat was Byzantium, seeing that Odin had tarnished the fair name of the god-head with diverse injuries to its majesty, thought that he ought to be removed from their society. And they had him not only ousted from their headship but outlawed him and stripped him of all worship and honor at home; thinking it better that the power of their infamous president should be overthrown than that public religion should be profaned; and fearing that they might themselves be involved with the sin of another, and, although guiltless be punished for the crimes of the guilty."
In other words, Odin was deposed by the assembled gods for practicing Seidhr, and they do not wish to pay for the crimes he committed. This reflects the sentiment of Voluspa 21-27 which reads in part:
(Volupsa) 24: Then all the powers went to their judgement seats, all the holy-gods and thereon held council, whether the Aesir should pay compensation or whether all the gods should pay tribute. 25.Odin cast his spear amid the assembly, that was the first folk war in the world; the wall of the Aesir was broken, the Vanir with fore-knowledge walked the plain.
As in Saxo's account, witchcraft plays a prominent role. In the previous strophes, the Aesir have burnt Gullveig in Odin's own hall. She is decidely a sorceress, and an evil one (Voluspa 22). But nonetheless, the Vans take exception to her killing. Strophe 24 seems to suggest that there is talk that they all (Aesir and Vans) share in the blame, but one or the other party disagrees with this assessment. Something must have been said to anger Odin, for he throws his spear amid the gathered gods, declaring war. And the Vans win, they burst through the wall of Asgard. >From the context, and from what has been stated above, it is likely that the Vans accused Odin of engaging in illicit seidhr practices as well, and therefore refused to share in the blame. As we know, Odin seduced Rind by this type of magic. Saxo says he "touched her with a piece of bark whereon spells were written and made her like one unto frenzy." Saxo expands this tale in Book Six and fully describes the seige of Asgard by the Vans. There Fridlief (Njord) infiltrates the castle of Bjorn (Odin) and drives him into exile. Suffice it to say, that the Vans win control of the celestrial city and Odin and the Aesir are banished for a period of years. In the meantime, the Vans rule Asgard. But rather than Njord, who is essentially a god of peace and prosperity, the Vans install Ull on the throne. Ull has always been friendly to the Vans. There is a long standing connection between Ull and the Van-god Frey which I shall discuss below-- (Note that Grimnismal 5 places their homes in close proximity, and Frey is given Alfheim "as a tooth-gift" implying that he is made ruler there.)
Returning to the tale told by Saxo in Book Three, he continues:
"Not wishing Odin to drive public religion into exile, they exiled him and put one Ollerus (Ull) in his place, to bear the symbols not only of royalty but of godhead, as though it had been as easy to create a god as a king. .......For nearly ten years Ollerus held the presidency of the divine senate; but at last the gods pitied the horrible exile of Odin and thought that he now had been punished heavily enough, so he exchanged his foul and unsightly estate for his ancient splendor."
Grimnismal 42 seems to suggest that Ull held a high rank among the gods ("Ullar hylli hefr ok allra goda"). Nor is that the only corroborating evidence from the poems of the Elder Edda. In Book One of his Danish History, Saxo speaks a time when Odin dwelt away from the gods in Upsala:
"Returning from exile, he forced all of those those who had used his absence to assume the honors of divine rank to resign them as usurped; and the gangs of sorcerers that had arisen he scattered like a darkness before the advancing glory of his godhead."
We need not assume that Odin's wrath was directed upon Ull, who actually replaced him, but rather, as Saxo states, on one Mid-Othin, who had taken "the opportunity to feign godhood and wrapping the minds of the barbarians in fresh darkness. ....He said (to the faithful) that the wrath of the gods could never be appeased nor the outrage to their diety expiated by mixed and indiscriminate sacrifices and therefore forebade the prayers for this end should be put up without distinction, appointing to each of those above his especial drink offering."
In other words, while Odin was in exile, one Mid-Othin took the opportunity to play god, and ordered the worshippers to give sacrifices to each individual god, rather than the gods as a whole. Odin dispelled this edict upon his return, as Havamal 145 says:
"Tis better not to pray than offer too much; a gift ever looks for return. Tis better not to send, than too much consume; So Thrund graved before the origin of men, where he rose up, when he came back."
That this Mid-Othin is none other than Loki becomes apparent when one looks closely at the record in regard to him. Saxo says of Mid-Othin:
"Even in death his abonimations were made manifest, for those who came near his barrow were cut off by a kind of sudden death; and after his end, he spread such pestilence that he seemed to leave a filthier record in his death than his life. It was though he would extort from the guilty a punishment for his slaughter."
Saxo describes the chained Utgard-Loki, which the adventurer Thorkill discovers in the underworld in Book 8, in similar terms. In this Utgard-Loki, we recognize Loki bound in the underworld. Saxo has again historicized a mythic account. Of his Utgard-Loki, Saxo says that when Thorkill plucked a hair from the giant's chin "a noisome smell reached the bystanders, that they could not breathe without stopping their noses with their mantles" and later referring to him as a "false god," Saxo says that the "reek of the hair" "plucked from the locks of the giant...was exhaled upon the the bystanders so that many perished from it." Loki alone can properly be classified as both a "false-god" and a "giant." Nowhere else does Saxo describe such a character. Surely, Mid-Othin is his Utgard-Loki, whom we know simply as Loki. Loki, as Mid-Othin, can properly said to have died, because he has been imprisoned to the underworld.
Saxo's account of Rollerus in Book 5 is the best evidence for the identity of Egil as Ull's father. There we encounter a pair of brothers named Roller and Erik: "sons of Ragnar, the champion, and children of one father by different mothers. Roller's mother and Erik's stepmother was named Kraka." Two statements in the narrative make it likely that this Roller is the Ull of our mythology. Of Roller's mother, (who, if this were Ull, would be Thor's wife, Sif,) Saxo states:
"She trusted partially in her divine attributes, and that consorting as she did in a manner with the gods, she wielded an innate and heavenly power"
Upon returning home, the half-brothers "found that Ragnar was dead and that Kraka had already married one Brak."
Later this Brak fights side by side with Roller and Erik against King Gotar, who no doubt from the context is a giant. It is possible that Saxo Latinized Thor's epithet "Asa-Bragi" into Brak, thus making Roller's stepfather the same as Ull's. But, in regard to the question at hand (Who is Ull's father?), the names Ragnar and Kraka offer little assistance, thus we must approach this question from another angle.
In the main text of the tale, Roller and Erik embark on a mission to enter the court of King Frodi and his sister Gunvara "surnamed the Fair, because of her surpassing beauty." From the description of the court, it is apparent that the gentle King Frodi and his sister are in the company of giants. Of these men, Saxo informs us that "their behavior was so outrageous and uncontrollable, that they ravished other men's brides and daughters," (pg. 122); one among them can "raise tempests by his spells" (pg. 128); and the whole lot of them "utter gruesome sounds like things howling" (pg. 135). Prominent among them is a woman named Gotwar whom "no man could subdue" and who "trusted not only in (insolent) questions, but was armed with stubborn answers." Her brother-in-law Westmar is said to have "12 sons, three of whom had the name Grep in common." These sons were "bold in spirit and let their courage become recklessness, and devoted their guilt-stained minds to foul and degraded orgies." and, of the three Greps specifically, one "ventured to seek a haven for his vagrant amours in the love of the king's sister," but Saxo assures us this love is never consumated, as Gunvara loathes her suitor. This eldest Grep has inherited his mother's glib tongue, for upon their arrival, Erik immediately enters into a flyting with him.
Not surprisingly, we can find references in the Old Norse literature that confirm this episode was drawn straight from the mythology. In King Frodi and his beautiful sister Gunvara, we discover the Van-gods Frey and Freyja. Voluspa 25 tells us that Freyja was once held in giant captivity when it asks "Who gave Od's maid to the giants and mixed the air with evil?" In a loose verse by the skald Kormak, poetry is referred to as "the seething flood of the sea-ranks of Syr of the Greps." (Skaldskaparsmal 66). Here we find a byname of Freyja (Syr; Gylfaginning 35) associated with "greppa," Greps. The explantion of this kenning for poetry is explained in Saxo, where one of the Greps engages Erik in a battle of tongues. In Saxo, Erik is known for his eloquence. And in an allusion to Freyja's beloved ornament Brisingsamen, the giantess Gotwar wages a "heavy necklace" against Erik in one of the many contests he and Roller must face in the court of Frodi and Gunvara. That Frey was also in Jotunheim at one time is suggested by his common epithet as "Beli's slayer" (Skaldskaparsmal 14 and elsewhere). Beli means "the howler," which at once reminds us of Saxo's description of the giants surrounding Frodi, and a poetic fragment by Eyvind Skaldaspiller calls an uninhabited northern land "the most remotely situated abode of Beli's slayer." That Frodi's kingdom is situated in a cold, remote land can be inferred from Saxo's narrative. It lies across a vast sea made treacherous by magical storms, as does Jotunheim.
At the end of the story, Saxo informs us that Erik marries Gunvara; and, in Book 7 he tells a related tale in which the low-born hero Otharus rescues the high-born Syritha from enslavement by a giantess. Here we recognize the names Odr and Syr, thinly disguised. Like Erik and Gunvara, Otharus also weds Syritha. These two tales are clearly episodes in the "lost" myth of the marriage of Freyja and "the man named Odr," retold by Saxo Grammaticus as the history of Danes.
The Eddic poems Groagaldr and Fjolsvinsmal complete this myth. It is an accepted fact that these two poems, which describe how the hero Svipdag wins the hand of the maid Menglad, are related. They belong together, and are two pieces of the same story, but between them lies a large lacuna. In Groagaldr, Svipdag is commanded by his stepmother to find "Menglodum," the Ornament-Lovers, here used in the plural (Seen as an 'error," this word is usually emended to the singular. See Vigfusson Corpus Poeticum Bor, pg. 94 footnote; as this poem is curiously absent from the Neckel-Kuhn text), and in Fjolsvinsmal he finally is reunited with Menglad (singular) who is his "fated bride" (strs. 43 & 46). Long has she waited for him to "return to my hall" (str. 49), although strophe 5 assures us that he has never been there before. Clearly Svipdag and Menglad have met before. Strophes 36-41 inform us that she is a goddess and one of the highest, while Grimnismal 47 tells us that the name of the watchman at the gate, Fjolsvidr, is a byname of Odin, himself. From the context of the poem, we see that Svipdag is standing outside Asgard's gate. The first strophe even tells us that he had to travel "up" to get there ("upp of koma"). What transpires between the events of Groagaldr and Fjolsvinsmal has previously been thought unknown. Groagaldr provides us with numerous clues and Saxo's narratives regarding the heroes Erik and Otharus fill the gap. For example, whereas Groagaldr sends the stepson Svipdag after "Menglodum," Saxo sends the stepson Erik and his half-brother Roller (Ullr) after Frodi (Frey) and his sister Gunvara (Freyja). Certainly, Frey and Freyja can be described as loving ornaments, and Freyja herself owns "the best ornament under heaven," Bringsa-Men-- the very prefix of her name Men-glad. For brevity's sake I will not enumerate the numerous parallels, which confirm their identity, here.
To be clear, Saxo's heroes Erik and Otharus are identical to the Eddiac hero Svipdag, whom Snorri calls Odur, "the man married to Freyja." When the stories preserved in Groagaldr, Saxo, and Fjolsvinsmal are set beside one another, an epic story emerges in which the sons of Egil, Odr and Ull, rescue the goddess Freyja, and her brother Frey from the giants, and return them safely to Asgard. Odr, for his efforts, is rewarded by becoming Freyja's husband.
From the extant records, it is possible to establish the identity of Odr-Otharus-Erik-Svipdag's father, and thus by extention that of Ull (Roller). This is the most expedient:
(As you read this, please bear in mind the previous two posts, thus I can avoid pointing out the obvious parallels)
Svipdag's mother, the sorceress Groa is married to Aurvandil (Orvandel). When her husband travels in the land of giants, she remains safe in the home of Thor. Once on such an adventure, Thor rescued Orvandel from near-death and carried him in a basket across the Elivagar river. On the way thither, Orvandel's toe is exposed; Thor breaks it off and places it in the heavens, where it becomes a star (Skaldskaparsmal 17). From the narrative, it is clear that Thor dropped Orvandel off somewhere along the way, presumeably at Orvandel's own home, before returning to Asgard. Like Egil, Orvandel is intimately associated with Thor and has a residence somewhere on this side of the Elivager river.
In Fornaldarsaga (iii, 241), Groa is said to find an orphan boy in a "flaedarmal" (a place which is flooded part of the time); she brings him home and rears him with her own son.
In Chapter 15 of Paul the Deacon's History of the Lombards, King Agelmund (Egil) finds an abandoned boy, the son of a giantess, in a dam and raises him as his own son. As he fished him up out of a dam, Agelmund names the boy Lassimo, which means "dam." The boy grows up to be a great hero.
As previously stated (in Aesir and the Elves, part 1), the boy Thjalfi is found in Egil's home. He is later adopted by Thor and becomes his companion, and a hero in his own right felling the muck-giant Mist-Calf during Thor's battle with the giant Hrungnir. Like Lassimo, the name Thjalfi suggests a dam. Vigfusson notes a possible connection between the OE "delve," a dyke and the AS "delfan," and Dutch "delven," to dig, to work the ground with a spade. These meanings may unlock the symbolism behind Thjalfi's battle with the giant Mist-Calf. Since the giant is made of clay, Thjalfi floods his feet, washing them away and felling the monster. I make no conclusions from this, I merely point out the possibility.
Thus in one source, Thjalfi is adopted by Groa, the husband of Orvandel "the arrow-worker," and in another he is the adopted son of the archer Egil (see Aesir and the Elves, 1 of 3). As we know, Orvandel's toe has been made a star (as have Egil's brother's Thjazi's eyes). From a hymn to Christ preserved in Codex Exoniensis and noted by Jacob Grimm in his Deutsche Mythology, we are assured that the star Orvandel (known elsewhere as Orvandilsta, Orvandel's toe) is distinquished by its brightness:
"O Earendel (Orvandel), brightest shining of Angels, thou who over Midgard art sent to men, thou true beam of the sun, shining above the lights of heaven, thou who always of thyself givest light"
In Fjolvinsmal 47, Svipdag, the son of Groa, euphemistically calls his father "Solbjartr," Sun-bright, which also illuminates his own name Svipdag, "shining countenance." Further on, Svipdag says that he was driven along "wind-cold paths from home." This undoubtedly is a reference to his adventures in Jotunheim, when he freed his bride Menglad-Freyja from the giant powers. That Solbjartr is not the actual name of his father, but rather a mere descriptive epithet, we can rest assured by Fjolsvinsmal 6 where he says "Wind-cold, I am called; Very-cold is my father." The poem itself is characterized by this sort of word-play and few things are given their actual names. (For example, Fjolsvidr's wolves are called Gifr and Geri, str. 14. Whereas Odin's wolves are named Geri and Freki.)
These are just a few of the many references that point to Egil as Svipdag's father. Thus it seems that Egil has two sons who take up important roles in Asgard, and a third adopted son who does the same: Svipdag who marries the goddess Freyja and befriends her brother Frey; Ull who at one time actually replaces Odin on the throne of Asgard; and Thjalfi who is a loyal companion of Thor. It is interesting to note that, like the sons of Ivaldi who forge treasures one each for Frey, Odin, and Thor; Egil's sons too are associated, one each, with these three same gods. It is no wonder that the Aesir and the Elves are so often named together.
In this way, we have discovered the identity of Ull's father; To the ancient Heathens, he was the archer Egil, the middle son of the elf Ivaldi and the giantess Greip; Volund's brother, and one of the clan of elf-smiths, the Sons of Ivaldi. Idunn is their sister. Thus there is no mystery why Ull and Egil are so often referred to in identical terms and in relationship to Thjazi-Volund's daughter, Skadi.
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