Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life: Book Three--On Obtaining Life from the Heavens [De vita coelitus comparanda]

(a) ...This shop of ours displays various antidotes, drugs, fomentations, ointments, and remedies, according to the differing mental capacities and natures of men. If in some way they happen to displease you, pass over these, by all means, but do not for that reason repudiate the rest. Finally, if you do not approve of astronomical images [imagines astronomicas], albeit invented for the health of mortals--which even I do not so much approve of as report [non tam probo quam narro]--dismiss them with my complete permission and even, if you will, by my advice. At least do not neglect medicines which have been strengthened by some sort of heavenly aid [coelesti quodam adminiculo confirmatas], unless perhaps you would neglect life itself. For I have found by long and repeated experience that medicines of this kind are as different from other medicines made without astrological election [absque delectu astrologico] as wine is from water. For example, there was an infant who was born half dead in the eighth month from conception at Florence in the month of March, at night when Saturn, retrograde, was ascending; by this sort of care the child seemed almost to be brought back to life rather than preserved by me, or rather, by God; and he has lived in good health now for nearly three years.... In all things which I discuss here or elsewhere, I intend to assert only so much as is approved by the Church. [Ad lectorem]

(b) ...the World-soul possesses by divine power precisely as many seminal reasons of things as there are Ideas in the Divine Mind.... And if in the proper manner you bring to bear on a species, or on some individual in it, many things which are dispersed but which conform to the same Idea, into this material thus suitably adapted you will soon draw a particular gift [singulare munus ab idea trahes] from the Idea, through the seminal reason of the Soul... And so let no one think that any divinities wholly separate from matter are being attracted by any given mundane materials, but that daemons rather are being attracted and gifts from the ensouled world and from the living stars. Again, let no man wonder that Soul can be allured as it were by material forms, since indeed she herself has created baits [escas] of this kind suitable to herself, to be allured thereby, and she always and willingly dwells in them. There is nothing to be found in this whole living world so deformed that Soul does not attend it, that a gift of the Soul is not in it. Therefore Zoroaster called such correspondences of forms to the reasons existing in the World-soul divine lures [divinas illices] and Synesius corroborated that they are magical baits [magicas...illecebras]. [c.1]

(c) ...If you want your body and spirit to receive power from some member of the cosmos, say from the Sun, seek the things which above all are most Solar among metals and gems, still more among plants, and more yet among animals, especially human beings; for surely things which are more similar to you confer more of it. These must both be brought to bear externally and, so far as possible, taken internally, especially in the day and the hour of the Sun and while the Sun is dominant in a theme of the heavens. Solar things are: all those gems and flowers which are called heliotrope because they turn towards the Sun, likewise gold, orpiment and golden colors,... amber, balsam, yellow honey,... the swan, the lion, the scarab beetle, the crocodile, and people who are blond, curly-haired, prone to baldness, and magnanimous. The above-mentioned things can be adapted partly to foods, partly to ointments and fumigations, partly to usages and habits. You should frequently perceive and think about these things and love them above all; you should also get a lot of light. [c.1]

(d) Always remember that through a given affect and pursuit of our mind and through the very quality of our spirit we are easily and quickly exposed to those planets which signify the same affect, quality, and pursuit. Hence, by withdrawal from human affairs, by leisure, solitude, constancy, by theology, the more esoteric philosophy, superstition, magic, agriculture, and by sorrow, we come under the influence of Saturn. We come under the influence of Jupiter by civic occupations...; of Mars, by anger and contests; of the Sun and of Mercury, by the pursuit of eloquence, of song, of truth, and of glory, and by skill... This is the rule common to the human pecies. The specific rule for an individual would be to investigate which star promised what good to the individual at his nativity, to beg grace from that star rather than from another, and to await from any given star not just any gift and what belongs to other stars, but a gift proper to that one.... [T]he Arabic writers... prove that by an application of our spirit to the spirit of the cosmos, achieved by physical science and our affect, celestial goods pass to our soul and body. This happens drom down here through our spirit within us which is a mediator, strengthened then by the spirit of the cosmos, and from above by way of the rays of the stars acting favorably on our spirit, which not only is similar to the rays by nature but also then makes itself more like celestial things. [c.2]

(e) ...let us return to the spirit of the world [mundi spiritum]. The world generates everything through it (since, indeed, all things generate through their own spirit); and we can call it both the heavens and quintescence. It is practically the same thing in the world's body as in our body, with this primary exception, that the World-soul does not draw this spirit out of the four elements serving as her humors the way our soul does form our humors, but she procreates this spirit in the first instance (to speak Platonically, or rather Plotinically) as if pregnant by her own generative power, and the stars along with it. Immediately through the spirit the World-soul gives birth to the four elements, as though everything were contained in the power of that spirit. Spirit is a very tenuous body [corpus tenuissimum], as if now it were soul and not body, and now body and not soul. [c.3]

(f) ...all astrologers attribute universal beneficence to the Sun and Jupiter alike--although the Sun does the same things more efficaciously and Jupiter acts under the power of the Sun. In both, heat flourishes and outweighs moisture, but in Jupiter it outweighs it slightly, in the Sun, it outweighs it by far, in both, benignly. Since, therefore, they are so harmonious, you will easily be able to make your spirit not only Jovial but even Solar too; and you will be able rightly to mix Solar and Jovial things... [c.4]

(g) order to proceed by the safest and also the most convenient way, observe the Moon when she aspects the Sun and is coming together with Jupiter, or at least when she aspects Jupiter and the Sun at the same time, or certainly when, soon after an aspect with the Sun, she is moving to a conjunction or aspect with Jupiter. And at one and the same time, combine with each other Solar and Jovial things together with Venereal and apply them to yourself. If necessity or business should force you to have recourse to only one out of the great ones, have recourse to Jupiter himself or preferably to both the Moon and Jupiter. For no star supports and strengthens the natural forces in us-- indeed all the forces--more than does Jupiter, nor does any star offer more or more prosperous things. And to receive him is beneficial in all circumstances, but to receive the Sun is perhaps not in all circumstances safe. For Jupiter is always beneficial, the sun often seems to harm.... Furthermore, I know by experience that when the Moon is in conjunction with Venus, medicine has hardly any effect. [c.6]

(h) In the twenty-second degree of Taurus, there are the Pleiades, a constellation that is Lunar and Martial, under which [astrologers] place crystal, the herb diacedon, and fennel-seed. They think it is useful for sharpening the sense of vision. the belief of some, however, that it is good for calling together daemons [ad daemonas convocandos], I consider to be a fiction.... In the third degree of Sagittarius [is] the Martial and Jovial Heart of the Scorpion presiding over sardonyx, amethyst, long birthwort, and saffron. They think that it makes the color good, the mind happy and wise, and that it drives out daemons [daemonia propulsare]. [c.8]

(i) Thebit the philosopher teaches that, in order to capture the power of any of the stars just mentioned, one should take its stone and herb and make a gold or silver ring and should insert the stone with the herb underneath it and wear it touching [your flesh]. do this when the Moon passes the star or looks at it with a trine or sextile aspect, and when the star itself is passing the midheaven or the Ascendant. But I, indeed, would compound the things which pertain to stars of this sort in the form of a medicine rather than of a ring, applied internally or externally, waiting, of course, for the aforesaid proper time. And yet the ancients thought highly of rings. For amis and Philostratus relate that Hiarchas, the chief of the Indian wise men, made seven rings in a similar way, named after the seven stars, and gave them to Apollonius of Tyana, who afterwards wore one of them each day, distributing them according to the names of the days [of the week]. Hiarchas told Apollonius that his grandfather, a philosopher, had lived for one hundred thirty years, perhaps because of his reliance upon a celestial gift of this sort. Apollonius, then, used his and looked young, so they say, until he was a hundred. But in brief, if rings of this sort have any power from on high, I do not think that it pertains so much to the soul or to our gross body as to the spirit, which is affected in this way or that as the ring is heated little by little, so that it is made firmer or clearer, stronger or milder, more austere or more joyful. These influences pass over completely into the body and somewhat into the sensual part of the soul which quite often gives in to the body. But insofar as they promise that the rings are useful against daemons or to acquire the favor of rulers, this is either a fiction or deduced from the fact that they make the spirit fearless and firm, or in the other case gentle, amiable in serving, and complaisant. [c.8]

(j) Let us by no means ever attempt anything forbidden by holy religion. Moreover, in performing any work let us hope for and seek the fruit of the work principally from Him who made both the celestials and those things which are contained in the heavens, who gave them their power, and who always moves and preserves them. [c.8]

(k) a frequent use of plants and a similar use of living things, you can draw the most from the spirit of the world, especially if you nourish and foster yourself by things which are still living, fresh, and all but still clinging, as it were, to mother earth [matri terrae quasi adhuc haerentibus]; and if you dwell as frequently as possible among plants which have a pleasant smell, or at least not a bad one. For all herbs, flowers, trees, and fruits have an odor, even though you often do not notice it. By this odor, they restore and invigorate you on all sides, as if by the breath and spirit of the life of the world. Your spirit, I say, is very similar by nature to odors of this sort; and through the spirit, a mediator between the body and the soul, the odors also easily refresh the body and are of wondrous advantage to the soul. Among these things you will dwell by day in the open air for the longest time that it can safely or conveniently be done, in lofty, clear, and temperate regions. For thus the rays of the Sun and the stars touch you more readily and purely on all sides; and they fill your spirit with the spirit of the world shining forth more richly through their rays. Moreover, even the natural motion of the air, which goes perpetually round and round, although it is scarcely perceived by anyone on account of its gentleness and its constant daily presence, laps you freely and penetrates you purely when you are walking about by day in the open air and dwelling in open and lofty places; and it wondrously furnishes your spirit with the motion and power of the world. Note I said by day, for we have found by experience that night air is bad for the spirits [noctornum aerem esse spiritibus inimicum]. But the use of daytime air helps them, especially if in your frequent strolls in the open you first of all avoid excessively inclement air. [c.11]

(l) The Hebrews, from having been brought up in Egypt, learned how to construct the golden calf, as their own astrologers think, in order to capture the favor of Venus and the Moon against the influence of Scorpio and Mars, which was inimical to the Jews. [c.11]

(m) Certainly those wonderful therapies which doctors trained in astrology are able to perform through medicines composed of many things--i.e., powders, liquids,unguents, electuaries--seem to have in themselves a more probable and obvious explanation than do images: first, because powders, liquids, unguents, and electuaries, made at the right time, receive celestial influences more easily and quickly than the harder materials form which images usually are made; second, because once impregnated with celestial influences, they are either taken internally and converted into our very selves, or at least when applied externally they stick closer and finally penetrate; third, because images are constructed of only one or a very few materials, but medicines can be made of as many as you like. For instance, if a hundred gifts of the Sun or Jupiter were scattered throughout a hundred plants, animals, etc., and you discovered them and were able to compound them and work them up into one form, in this you would actually seem already to possess completely the Sun or Jupiter. [c.11]

(n) Many things, then, are indicated for us in the above lists, from which, provided you can manage it, you will be able to compound electuaries or unguents when the Sun is dignified [sub imperio Solis] for fostering either internally or externally the heart, the stomach, and the head, that the spirit may thence become Solar [ut spiritus inde Solaris evadat]... >From all these things, I say, or at least from many of them, you should compound something while the Sun is dignified [dominante Sole]. Begin to use it, too, under his domination, whilst you also put on Solar clothes and live in, look at, smell, imagine, think about, and desire Solar things. Likewise you should imitate both the dignity and the gifts of the Sun in your life. You should pass your time among Solar men and plants; you should touch laurel continually. [c.11]

(o) As soon as I had explored these things [astral images] thus far, while I was still a youth, I greatly rejoiced, and I planned to engrave a lodestone as best I could with the figure of the celestial Bear when the Moon was in one of her better aspects with it and then to suspend it from my neck with an iron thread. Then at last, I was hoping, I would share in the power of that constellation. But when I had explored thurther, i found in the end that the influence of that constellation is very Saturnine and Martial. I learned from the Platonists that evil demons [malos daemonas] are mostly Northern, which even the Hebrew Astronomers confess, placing harmful Martial daemons in the North, propitious and Jovial ones in the South. I learned from the theologians and Iamblichus that makers of images are often possessed by evil daemons and deceived. I personally have seen a gem at Florence imported from India, where it was dug out of the head of a dragon, round in the shape of a coin, inscribed by nature with very many points in a row like stars, which when doused with vinegar moved a little in a straight line, then at a slant, which when doused with vinegar moved a little in a straight line, then at a slant, and soon began going around, until the vapor of the vinegar dispersed. For my part, I thought a gem of this kind had the power of the celestial Dragon and almost its picture [in the points]; that it received also its motion, whenever through the spirit of vinegar or strong wine it was rendered more responsive to that Dragon or the heavens. Whoever wore this, therefore, and often doused it with vinegar would perhaps borrow some of the power of that Dragon which with his two coils enfolds on one side the Great Bear and on the other, the Little.... [c.15]

(p) I pass over fascinations achieved by a sudden glance and very passionate loves instantly kindled by rays from the eyes, which also are fascinations [fascinamenta] of a sort, as I prove in the book De amore. Nor will I mention how quickly an inflamed eye afflicts whoever looks at it and how a menstruous woman affects a mirror by looking in it. Isn't it said that certain families among the Illyrians and Triballi, when they were angry, killed people by looking at them and that certain women in Scythia did this habitually? And down-lookers and the serpents called reguli kill people by shooting rays from their eyes. Also the marine torpedo-fish numbs instantly the hand that touches it even at a distance with a rod. In addition, the little fish echinus is said to stop a great ship, and only with a touch. Furthermore, by a bite, even if invisible, the phalangium-spiders in Puglia suddenly transmute the spirit and mind into a stupor. What can a mad dog accomplish even without an apparent bite? What the broom? What the wild strawberry tree? Doesn't their lightest touch excite poison and madness? In the light of all this, are you going to deny that the celestials with the rays of their eyes with which they both look at us and touch us, achieve wonders in an instant? [c.16]

(q) In a city, does not the countenance of a prince, if mild and cheerful, cheer everybody up, but if fierce or sad, instantly terrify them? What then do you think the countenances of the celestials, the lords of all earthly things, are able to effect in comparison to these? I think that inasmuch as even people uniting to beget offspring often imprint on children to be born long afterwards not only the sort of countenances they then wear but even the sort of countenances they are merely imagining, in the same way the celestial countenances rapidly impart to materials their characteristics. If sometimes the characteristics seem to lie hidden there a long time, eventually in their season they emerge. [c.17]

(r) Pietro d'Abano says that a doctor can cure the sick by an image, provided that he fashions it at a time when the cardines of the Ascendant, the mid-heaven, and the Descendant are fortunate, and likewise the lord of the Ascendant and the second place; but let the sixth place and its lord be unfortunate. Pietro also says that health will be more lasting and life longer than was initially appointed, if after you investigate the person's nativity you make an image in which these fortunate things are inscribed: the significator of that life; likewise the givers of the life, both the signs and their lords, especially the ascendant sign and its lord; likewise the mid-heaven; the location of the sun; the Part of Fortune; the lord of [the place of] the conjunction or syzygy [of the Sun and Moon] which occurred before the birth. Moreover, pick a time when the evil and unfortunate planets are cadent. No astrologer doubts, Pietro concludes, that such things contribute to a long life. [c.18]

(s) They [the ancients] made images against disease, discord, and captivity when [the Moon] was positioned from the twelfth degree of Capricorn to its twelfth degree. Whenshe was positioned from the twelfth degree of Capricorn to its twenty-fifth degree, they made images against lassitude and prison. In the position from the fourth degree of Pisces to its seventeenth degree, they made images for curing diseases, for profits, for companionship, for increasing the harvest. And in other positions they very often used to contrive other images in their vain curiosity [vana saepius curiositate machinabantur]. I enumerate only the ones which savor not so much of magic as of medicine [non tam Magum quam medicum redolerent]. For even the medicine I suspect to be mostly vain. [c.18]

(t) would be safer to trust oneself to medicines than to images; ...the things we said cause celestial power in images can have their efficacy rather in medicines than in images. For it is possible that, if images have any power, they do not so much acquire it just at the moment of receiving a figure as possess it through a material naturally do disposed; but if an image eventually acquired something when it was engraved, it obtained it not so much through the figure as through the heating produced by hammering. This hammering and heating, if it happens under a harmony similar to that celestial harmony which had once infused power into the material, activates this power and strengthens it as blowing strengthens a flame and makes manifest what was latent before, as the heat of a fire brings to visibility letters previously hidden which were written with the juice of an onion; and as letters written with the fat of a goat on a stone, absolutely unseen, if the stone is submerged in vinegar, emerge and stick out as if they were sculptured. [c.18]

(u) ...if anyone uses hellebore according to medical rules and is strong enough to tolerate it, then, by the resulting purgation and by its occult property, he changes somehow the quality of his spirit, the nature of his body, and in part also the motions of his mind; and he is, as it were, rejuvenated so that he seems to be well-nigh reborn. Whence the story- -Medea and the magicians used certain herbs to restore youth; myrobalans do not so much restore as preserve it. Astrologers think that propitious images have a similar power, by which they somehow change the nature and behavior of the wearer; restore him to a better state, so that he becomes now almost another person; or at least preserve him in good health for a very long time. They say that harmful images, however, possess against the wearer the force of hellebore that has been taken in a measure exceeding medical rules and the patient's capacity--a poisonous and deadly force. Moreover, they say that images fashioned and directed for the ruin of some other person have the power of a bronze and concave mirror aimed directly at him, so that by collecting rays and reflecting them back, at close range they completely incinerate him, and even at long range they make him blind. From this has arisen the story or belief which supposed that by the machinations of astrologers and the witchcraft of magicians [astrologorum machinis agorumque veneficiis], people, animals, plants can be planet-stricken [siderari] and waste away. I do not quite understand, however, how images have any force upon a distant target, but I suspect that they have some force on the wearer. Yet I do not think that they have the sort of force that many suppose--and what they do have is caused by the material rather than the figure--and (as I said) I prefer medicines to images by far. [c.20]

(v) is my opinion that the intention of the imagination [imaginationis intentionem] does not have its power so much in fashioning images or medicines as it does in applying and swallowing them. And so if anyone, as they say, wears an image which has been properly fashioned, orcertainly if anyone uses a rightly made medicine, and yearns vehemently to get help from it and believes with all his heart and hopes with all his strength [credat speretque firmissime], he will surely get a great deal more help from it. [c.20]

(w) ...they [the astrologers] hold that certain words pronounced with a quite strong emotion [quaedam acriore quodam affectu pronuntiata] have great force to aim the effect of images precisely where the emotion and words are directed. And so, in order to bring two people together in passionate love [ad duos ardentissimo quodam amore conciliandos], they used to fashion an image when the Moon was above the horizon and was coming together with Venus in Pisces or Taurus, and they followed many precise directions involving stars and words which I will not tell you, for we are not teaching philters but medicine [non enim philtra docemus sed medicinas]. It is however more likely that an effect of this sort is achieved either by Venereal daemons who rejoice in such deeds and words or by daemons who are simply deceivers [vel per Venereos daemonas... his operibus verbisque gaudentes, vel per daemonas simpliciter seductores]. [c.21]

(x) ...remember that song is a most powerful imitator of all things [cantum esse imitatorem omnium potentissimum]. It imitates the intentions and passions of the soul as well as words; it represents also people's physical gestures, motions, and actions as well as their characters and imitates all these and acts them out so forcibly that it immediately provokes both the singer and the audience to imitate and act out the same things. By the same power, when it imitates the celestials, it also wonderfully arouses our spirit upwards to the celestial influence and the celestial influence downwards to our spirit. Now the very matter of song, indeed, is altogether purer and more similar to the heavens than is the matter of medicine. For this too is air, hot or warm, still breathing and somehow living [quodammodo vivens]; like an animal, it is composed of certain parts and limbs of its own and not only possesses motion and displays passion but even carries meaning like a mind [significatum afferens quasi mentem], so that it can be said to be a kind of airy and rational animal [animal quoddam aerium et rationale]. Song, therefore, which is full of spirit and meaning--if it corresponds to this or that constellation not only in the things it signifies, its parts, and the form that results from those parts, but also in the disposition of the imagination--has as much power as does any other combination of things [e.g., a medicine] and casts it into the singer and from him into the nearby listener. It has this power as long as it keeps the vigor and the spirit of the singer, especially if the singer himself be Phoebean by nature and have in his heart a powerful vital and animal spirit. [c.21]

(y) ...a prayer, when it has been suitably and seasonably composed and is full of emotion and forceful [orationem apte et opportune compositam et affectu sensuque plenam atque vehementem], has a power similar to a song.... For we are not now speaking of worshipping divinities but of a natural power in speech, song, and words [de naturali quadam potestate sermonis et cantus atque verborum]. [c.21]

(z) ...everywhere nature is a sorceress [Ubique igitur natura maga est], as Plotinus and Synesius say, in that she everywhere entices particular things by particular foods, just as she attracts heavy things by the power of the earth's center, light things by the power of the Moon's sphere, leaves by heat, roots by moisture, and so on. by means of this attraction, the wise men of India testify, the world binds itself together [secum ipso devinciri mundum]; and they say that the world is an animal which is masculine and at the same time feminine throughout and that it everywhere links with itself in the mutual love of its members and so holds together... [c.26]

(aa) Ptolomy... argues... that a wise man... can help the work of the stars just as the farmer does the power of the earth. The Magus subjects earthly things to celestial, lower things everywhere to higher, just as particular females everywhere are subjected to males appropriate to them for impregnation, as iron to a magnet to get magnetized, as camphor to hot air for absorption, as crystal to the Sun for illumination, as sulfur and sublimed liquor to a flame for kindling, as an egg-shell, empty and full ofdew, to the Sun for elevation, or rather the egg itself to the hen for hatching. [c.26]

(bb) Someone... will say: Marsilio is a priest, isn't he? Indeed he is. What business then do priests have with medicine or, again, with astrology? Another will say: What does a Christian have to do with magic or images [Quid Christiano cum magia vel imaginibus?] And someone else, unworthy of life, will begrudge life to the heavens [Alius autem et quidem indignus vita vitam invidebit coelo].... ...Christ, the giver of life, who commanded his disciples to cure the sick in the whole world, will also enjoin priests to heal at least with herbs and stones, if they are unable to cure with words as those men did before. But if those things are not sufficient, he will command them to compound them with a seasonable breath of heaven and apply them to sick people. For with the same breath of heaven by which he incites animals everywhere, each to his own medicine, even so does he provide most abundantly for the life of all.... ...Marsilio is not approving magic and images [magiam vel imagines non probari] but recounting them in the course of an interpretation of Plotinus. And my writings make this quite clear, if they are read impartially. Nor do I affirm here a single word about profane magic which depends upon the worship of daemons, but I mention natural magic, which, by natural things, seeks to obtain the services of the celestials for the prosperous health of our bodies [Neque de magia hic prophana, quae cultu daemonum nititur, verbum quidem ullum asseverari, sed de magic naturali, quae rebus naturalibus ad prosperam corporum valetudinem coelestium beneficia captat, effici mentionem]. This power, it seems, must be granted to minds which use it legitimately, as medicine and agriculture are justly granted, and all the more so as that activity which joins heavenly things to earthly is more perfect. From this workshop, the Magi, the first of all, adored the new-born Christ [Ex had officina Magi omnium primi Christum statim natum adoraverunt]. Why then are you so dreadfully afraid of the name of Magus, a name pleasing to the Gospel, which signifies not an enchanter and a sorcerer, but a wise priest [Nomen evangelio gratiosum, quod non maleficum et veneficum, sed sapientem sonat et sacerdotem]? For what does that Magus, the first adorer of Christ, profess? If you wish to hear: on the analogy of a farmer, he is a cultivator of the world. Nor does he on that account worship the world, just as a farmer does not worship the earth; but just as a farmer for the sake of human sustenance tempers his field to the air, so that wise man, that priest, for the sake of human welfare tempers the lower parts of the world to the upper parts... Lastly, there are two kinds of magic. The first is practiced by those who unite themselves to daemons by a specific religious rite [certo quodam cultu daemonas sibi conciliant], and, relying on their help, often contrive portents. This, however, was thoroughly rejected when the Prince of this World was cast out. But the other kind of magic is practiced by those who seasonably subject natural materials to natural causes to be formed in a wondrous way. Of this profession there are also two types: the first in inquisitive [curiosa], the second, necessary [necessaria]. The former does indeed feign useless portents for ostentation... This type, however, must be avoided as vain and harmful to health. Nevertheless the necessary type which joins medicine with astrology must be kept. [Apology]

Selections extracted by Richard Kieckhefer from Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life: A Critical Edition and Translation with Introduction and Notes, by Carol V. Kaske and John R. Clark (Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1989).

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