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Aldus Manutius

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Aldus Manutius
Aldus Manutius.jpg
Aldus Pius Manutius
Born Aldo Manuzio
Died February 6, 1515
Venice, Republic of Venice
Nationality Venetian
Other names Aldus Manutius the Elder
Occupation humanist, printer, publisher
Known for Founding the Aldine Press at Venice

Aldus Pius Manutius (/məˈnjʃiəs/; Italian: Aldo Pio Manuzio; 1449/1452 – February 6, 1515) was a Venetian humanist, scholar, and educator. He became a printer and publisher in his forties when he helped found the Aldine Press in Venice. Manutius is known for publishing rare manuscripts in their original Greek and Latin form. Before Manutius, publishers rarely printed volumes in Greek. Manutius commissioned type cutters to create fonts in Greek and Latin resembling humanist handwriting of his time. Manutius' fonts would be the first known model of italic type. Manutius also popularized the libelli portatiles, or portable little (specifically) classic books: small-format volumes that could be easily carried and read anywhere.

He is also known as "Aldus Manutius the Elder" to distinguish him from his grandson, "Aldus Manutius the Younger".

Early life

Bust of Aldo Manuzio. Panteon Veneto; Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti

Manutius was born close to Rome in Bassiano which was part of the Papal States Territory later known as the province of Latina (Seddon 2015, p. 22). He grew up in a wealthy family during the Italian Renaissance and in his youth was sent to Rome to become a humanist scholar. In Rome, he studied Latin under Gaspare da Verona and attended lectures by Domizio Calderini in the early 1470s. In 1475 to 1478, Manutius studied Greek in Ferrara from Guarino da Verona (Fletcher III 1988, p. 1).

Manutius was granted citizenship of the town of Carpi on 8 March 1480. In 1482, he went to reside at Mirandola with his old friend and fellow student, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, while avoiding the Venetian army. There he stayed two years pursuing his studies in Greek literature (Symonds 1911). Pico recommended Manutius to become the tutor of his nephews, Alberto and Leonello Pio, princes of the town of Carpi (Beltramini & Gaasparotto 2016, p. 157). In Carpi, Manutius shared a close bond with his student, Alberto Pio. At the end of the 1480s Manutius published two works addressed to his two pupils and their mother, Caterina Pico. Both works were published in Venice by Baptista de Tortis: Musarum panagyris with its Epistola Catherinae Piae, March/May 1487 to March 1491 and the Paraenesis, 1490 (Fletcher III 1988, pp. 1–3).

Giovanni Pico's family supplied Manutius with funds for starting his printing press and gave him lands in Carpi (Symonds 1911). Manutius determined that Venice was the best location for his work settling there in 1490 (Symonds 1911). In Venice, Manutius began gathering publishing contracts at which point he met Andrea Torresani who also was interested in print publishing. Torresani and Manutius became lifelong business partners. For their first contract together Manutius hired Torresani to print the first edition of his Latin grammar book the Institutiones grammaticae, published on 9 March 1493 (Fletcher III 1988, p. 3).

Aldine Press

The Aldine Press established in 1494 did not have its first publication, Erotemata cum interpretatione Latina by Constantine Lascaris, until March 1495. Andrea Torresani and Pier Francesco Barbarigo nephew of the doge, Agostino Barbigo, held fifty percent of the press. Of Torresani's fifty percent Manutius was given one-fifth, but accounts are unclear whether Manutius' one-fifth refers to ten percent of the Aldine Press or ownership exclusively to one-fifth of Torresani's share (Fletcher III 1988, pp. 3, 40–41).

Aristotle printed by Aldus Manutius, 1495–98 (Libreria antiquaria Pregliasco, Turin)

Manutius started the first volume of his Aristotle edition in 1495. Four more volumes completed his Aristotle edition published all together in 1497 and 1498. The Aldine Press produced nine comedies of Aristophanes in 1498. Pietro Bembo edited Petrarch's poems and in July 1501 Manutius published the book in an octavo format (Beltramini & Gasparotto 2016, p. 295). Works of Thucydides, Sophocles, and Herodotus followed in 1502. Manutius corrected and improved texts published originally in Florence, Rome, and Milan in addition to editing Greek manuscripts. To promote Greek studies Manutius founded an academy of Hellenists in 1502 called the New Academy. The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition writes that the New Academy's "rules were written in Greek, its members spoke Greek, their names were Hellenized, and their official titles were Greek (Symonds 1911, p. 625)." Members of the "New Academy" included Desiderius Erasmus, Pietro Bembo, and Scipio Fortiguerra. However, M.J.C. Lowry, M.A., Ph.D. a lecturer in history at the University of Warwick regards the New Academy as a hopeful dream rather than an organized institute (Lowry 1976, pp. 378–420).

The Second Italian War pressed heavily on Venice suspending Manutius' publishing labors for a time. However, in 1507 Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis and Hecuba were published with Erasmus' translation from Greek into Latin (Beltramini & Gasparotto 2016, p. 127). Manutius also relied on Pietro Bembo and Marco Musuro to translate for the Aldine Press (Beltramini & Gasparotto 2016, p. 85). In 1508, he resumed publishing with an edition of the minor Greek orators and in 1509 printed the lesser works of Plutarch. Printing work halted again while the League of Cambrai attempted to curve Venice's influence. Manutius reappeared with an edition of Plato in 1513 that he dedicated to Pope Leo X in a preface that compares the miseries of warfare and the woes of Italy with the sublime and tranquil objects of the student's life. Pindar, Hesychius, and Athenaeus followed in 1514. The Aldine Press had increased in popularity and as a result, people would come to visit the shop and interrupt his work. Manutius began putting up a sign reading, "Whoever you are, Aldus asks you again and again what it is you want from him. State your business briefly and then immediately go away (Clemons & Fletcher 2015, p. 94)."

Manutius had begun an edition of the Septuagint, the first ever to be published; it appeared posthumously in 1518 (Symonds 1911, p. 624).

Greek classics

Widely disseminating Greek classics was first made possible with the invention of the printing press. Before Manutius', only four Italian towns were authorized to produce Greek publications: Milan, Venice, Vicenza, and Florence. However, only works by Theocritus, Isocrates, Homer were previously published (Symonds 1911, p. 624). Printers such as John Speyer produced Greek passages but then required Greek letter to be left blank and later filled in by hand. Aldus Manutius' desire to preserve ancient Greek literature in its original form brought him to commission a font based on classical Greek manuscripts (Barolini 1992, pp. 13–14).

Manutius chose Venice because of its many Greek resources. Venice held many Greek manuscripts from the time of Constantinople. Also in Venice, was a large cluster of Greek scholars. “In the 1490s Aldus Manutius hoped to inspire and refine his readers by inundating them with Greek (Lowry 1991, p. 177)." Manutius began gathering Greek scholars and compositors, employing as many as thirty Greek speakers in his print shop. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica records the "instructions to typesetters and binders were given in Greek. The prefaces to his [Manutius'] editions were written in Greek. Greeks from Crete collated manuscripts, read proofs, and gave samples of calligraphy for casts of Greek type. Manutius soon printed editions of Hero and Leander by Musaeus Grammaticus, the Galeomyomachia, and the Greek Psalter. He called these "Precursors of the Greek Library" because they served as guides to the Greek language (Symonds 1911, p. 624)." Scholars have identified six different Greek typefaces found in Aldus Manutius' publications during his lifetime (Barolini 1992, p. 78).

Before Manutius, there were fewer than ten Greek titles in print. To add to this difficulty, the majority of these Greek publications to be read were transported from the Accursius press of Milan (Lowry 1991, p. 183).

Latin and Italian classics

The Aldine Press also published Latin and Italian classics (Symonds 1911, p. 624). Aldus Manutius printed many first editions including Pietro Bembo's Asolani, Poliziano's collected works, Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, and Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. For his Latin and Italian editions, Manutius commissioned the elegant cursive type, which now bears his name. The typeface is said to be a copy of Francesco Petrarch's handwriting. The typeface was cast by Francesco da Bologna who later was wrongly identified by Antonio Panizzi as Francesco Raibolini the painter (Symonds 1911, p. 624).

The 1501 Virgil introduced the use of italic print and was produced in higher-than-normal print runs (1,000 rather than the usual 200 to 500 copies). Manutius strove for excellence in typography and book design while constructing lower-cost editions. This undertaking was carried out under continual difficulties; problems arising from strikes among his workmen, unauthorized use of Manutius' materials by rivals, and the interruptions of war were common (Symonds 1911, p. 625).

Imprint and motto

Bembo - Gli Asolani, Aldo, 1505 (page 202 crop)

Manutius adopted the image of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor as his publisher's device in June 1502 (Fletcher III 1995, p. 7). The dolphin-and-anchor symbol is associated with the phrase Festina Lente, meaning "make haste slowly" indicating quickness combined with firmness in the execution of a great scheme. The motto was adopted by Manutius as early as 1499. The symbol and phrase were taken from a Roman coin minted during Emperor Vespasian's reign. The coin was given to Manutius by Pietro Bembo (Fletcher III 1995, pp. 7, 43–59).

Aldus Manutius' editions of the classics were so highly respected that almost immediately the dolphin-and-anchor device was pirated by French and Italian publishers. Because of the Aldine Press' renown, many organizations now use the image of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor (Fletcher III 1988, pp. 4–7). More recently, the device has been used by the nineteenth-century London firm of William Pickering, and by Doubleday. The international honor society for library and information science, Beta Phi Mu uses the dolphin and the anchor as the society’s insignia (Beta Phi Mu).

Manutius' enchiridia

Manutius described his new format of books as "libelli portatiles in formam enchiridii" or "portable small books in the form of a manual (Clemons & Fletcher 2015, p. 97)." Enchiridion, as explained in A Legacy More Lasting than Bronze, also refers to a handheld weapon. "A hint that Aldus intended the books in his Portable Library to be the weapons of scholars (Clemons & Fletcher 2015, p. 97) (Beal 2011)."

Manutius converted to this new format in 1501 with the publication of Virgil (Angerhofer, Maxwell & Maxwell 1995, p. 2). As time went on, Manutius self-advertised his portable format through the dedication pages he published (Grendler 1984, p. 22).

Many scholars consider the development of the portable book as Manutius' most celebrated contribution to printing and publishing. These mobile books were the first known appearance of editio minor, a straightforward text (Fletcher III 1988, pp. 4–5). During the 15th century, often books were chained to a reading platform to protect valuable property. This left the reader stationary, requiring them to stay put in one spot to read (Fletcher III 1988, p. 88). Another common habit was for publishers to add commentary to the classics they published. Pages became overloaded with scholarship and serious material which produced a large book difficult to transport. However, Manutius’ books were “published without commentary and in smaller sizes, usually octavos of five by eight or four by six inches (Grendler 1984, p. 22)." His famous octavo editions are often regarded as the first prototype of the mass-market paperback (Lowry 1979, p. 142).

The octavos were moderately priced considering the known average salaries of the time, but they were not cheap. Manutius' priced his Latin octavos at 30 soldi which was 1/4 of a ducat. His Greek octavos were double the price at 60 soldi. For context, a master mason would earn about 50 soldi a day to make between 50–100 ducats a year (Fletcher III 1988, pp. 88–91).

The quality of Manutius' work, as well as the popularity, drives higher prices than those published around the same time. In 1991, Martin Lowry found that an auction in New York took place where "initial prices of $6,000 - $8,000 and $8,000 - $12,000 were quotes on copies of Decor Puellarum and Aulus Gellius in Jenson’s editions: Aldus' Hypnerotomachia Polifili started at $25,000 - $30,000 (Lowry 1991, p. 137)."

A page from Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, an illustrated book printed by Aldus Manutius
The Rylands copy of the Aldine Vergil of 1501


Cursive was the norm for everyday handwriting in Venice, but at the time published works only contained block lettering. Manutius commissioned typefaces designed to look like the handwriting of humanists both in Latin and Greek in order to uphold the manuscript tradition (Fletcher III 1988, pp. 77–82) (Schuessler 2015). By creating a cursive typeface Manutius could make the works he published feel more personal. In the New Aldine Studies Harry George Fletcher III, Pierpont Morgan Library's curator for printed books and bindings, describes his belief for Manutius' typeface, "his principal intent, I am convinced, was to make available in type a face comfortable for its readers (Fletcher III 1988, p. 5)."

Manutius hired the punchcutter Francesco Griffo of Bologna to create the new typeface. The handwriting reproduced for the many Aldine Press typefaces is a topic of conflicting opinions by scholars; the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica suggests Petrarch's handwriting (Symonds 1911, p. 624) while the New Aldine Studies presumes the scribes Pomponio Leto and Bartolomeo Sanvito were the inspiration for the typeface (Fletcher III 1988, p. 77). Other scholars believe the first Greek typeface was derived from the likeness of Immanuel Rhusotas, another scribe during the time of Manutius (Baker 2016, p. 81). Despite the uncertainty, the Aldine Press commissioned the first Greek script designed "with accents and letters cast separately and combined by the compositor (Baker 2016, p. 81)." The typeface was first used in publishing Erotemata by Constantine Lascaris in 1495. The roman typeface was finished later the same year and Pietro Bembo's De Aetna was the first book published in the new roman script (Baker 2016, pp. 81–86).

Manutius and Griffo's original typeface is the first known model of italic type and was used by Manutius until 1501 (Fletcher III 1988, pp. 2–5). Five italic words were printed in St. Catherine of Siena in 1500 and in 1501 an Opera by Virgil was the first completed book in italic type (Beltramini & Gasparotto 2016, p. 160) (Clemons & Fletcher 2015, p. 90).

The 1502 publication of the Metamorphoses included Manutius' privilege from the doge of Venice indicating any use or imitation of Manutius' Greek and Italic typefaces were forbidden (Angerhofer, Maxwell & Maxwell 1995, p. 49). Despite trying to have the font protected legally, Manutius could not stop printers outside of Venice from his work which led to the font's popularity outside of Italy (Lyons 2011, p. 78). Type designs based on work designed by Francesco Griffo and commissioned by Aldus Manutius include Bembo, Poliphilus, and Garamond.

Marriage and personal life

Bernardino Loschi, Aldo Manuzio

In 1505, Manutius married Maria daughter of Andrea Torresani (Barolini 1992, p. 84) of Asola. Torresani and Manutius were already business partners but the marriage combined the two partner's shares in the publishing business. After the marriage, Manutius lived at Torresani's house now his father-in-law. By 1506 the Aldine Press was shrinking in popularity and was moved to a house now covered by a bank building named Campo Manin in Venice. In March 1506 Manutius decided to travel for six months in search of new and reliable manuscripts. While traveling with a guide, Manutius was stopped by border guards of the Marquisate of Mantua. The guards were looking for two criminals. In fear, the guide took flight taking with him all of Manutius' personal effects. This suspicious activity led the guards to arrest Manutius. However, Manutius knew the Marquis of Mantua, Francesco Gonzaga. Manutius spent five days in jail in Casal Romano and spent another night in a real prison in Canneto. He wrote letters to the Marquis but it took six days until it was brought to Gonzaga's attention. Manutius was eventually released by Geoffroy Carles, president of the Milanese Senate. The "eventual appearance, in 1509, of a new edition of Horace with an accompanying work by Aldus on Horation metrics and dedicated to Carles" was contingent on this experience and Manutius' connection with Geoffrey Carles (Fletcher III 1988, pp. 7–13).

Manutius wrote his will on 16 January 1515 instructing Giulio Campagnola to provide capital letters for his italic type (Beltramini & Gasparotto 2016, p. 131). He died the next month, 6 February, and "with his death the importance of Italy as a seminal and dynamic force in printing came to an end (Blumenthal 1973, p. 11)." Torresani and his two sons carried on the business during the youth of Manutius' children. The publishing symbol and motto were never wholly abandoned by the Aldine Press until the expiration of their firm in its third generation of operation (Symonds 1911, p. 625).

Manutius dreamed of a trilingual Bible but never saw it come to fruition (Fletcher III 1988).

Influence in the modern era

1994 marked the 500th anniversary of Aldus Manutius' first publication. On Manutius, Paul F. Grendler wrote, "Aldus ensured the survival of a large number of ancient texts and greatly facilitated the diffusion of the values, enthusiasms, and scholarship of Italian Renaissance Humanism to the rest of Europe". "He jettisoned commentary because he felt that it prevented the dialogue between author and reader that the renaissance prized." The modern world owes a great debt to Aldus Manutius for Greek literature (Grendler 1984, pp. 22–24).


  • The novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan features a fictionalized version of Aldus Manutius, as well as a fictional secret society devoted to him. One of the novel's characters, Griffo Gerritszoon, designs a fictitious font called "Gerritszoon" which is preinstalled on every Mac, in allusion to Manutius' associate Francesco Griffo, the designer of italic type. The Aldine Press' motto festina lente is used as the name of the fictional corporation that owns and markets the "Gerritszoon" font (Sais).
  • The book John Henry Nash: The Aldus of San Francisco relates John Nash to Aldus Manutius and San Francisco to Venice (O'day 1928).
  • The Palazzo dei Pio chapel in Carpi has a painted mural which includes Aldus Manutius along with Alberto and Leonello Pio (Clemons & Fletcher 2015, p. 320).


A partial list of works translated and published by the Aldine Press under Aldus Manutius' supervision as cited by Aldus Manutius A Legacy More Lasting than Bronze (Clemons & Fletcher 2015).

  • Institutiones Graecae grammaticae, Urbano Bolzanio (1497)
  • De mysteriis Latin, Iamblichus (1497)
  • Alcibiades; De sacrificio et magia Latin, Proclus (1497)
  • De somniis Latin, Synesius Platonicus (1497)
  • De daemonibus Latin, Michael Psellus (1497)
  • Dictionarium Graecum, Giovanni Crastoni (1497)
  • Book of Hours Greek, Catholic Church (1497)
  • Works, Aristophanes (1498)
  • Works Latin, Angelo Poliziano (1498)
  • Cornucopiae, Niccolò Perotti (1499)
  • Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Francesco Colonna (1499)
  • Epistole devotissime, Catherine of Siena (1500)
  • De vita Apollonii, Philostratus (1501)
  • Vocabularium, Julius Pollux (1502)
  • In Aristotelis De interpretatione Commentarius, Ammonius Hermiae (1503)
  • In Posteriora resolutoria Aristotelis Commentaria, John Philoponus (1504)
  • Gli Asolani, Pietro Bembo (1505)
  • Hecuba; Iphigenia in Aulide Latin, Euripides (1507)
  • Epistolae, Pliny the Younger (1508)
  • Moralia, Plutarch (1509)
  • Erotemata, Constantine Lascaris (1512)
  • Epistolae ad Atticum; ad Brutum; ad Quintum fratrem, Cicero (1513)
  • Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri IX, Valerius Maximus (1514)


For substantial collections of Aldus Manutius' publications, see Aldine Press Collections.

See also


  • Angerhofer; Maxwell; Maxwell (1995). In Aedibus Aldi: The Legacy of Aldus Manutius and His Press. Harold B. Lee Library. 
  • Barker, Nicolas (2016). "A Manuscript Made For Pier Francesco Barbarigo". Aldus Manutius: The making of the myth. Marsilio Editori. 
  • Barolini, Helen (1992). Aldus and His Dream Book. Italica Press. 
  • Beal, Peter (2011). "A Dictionary of English Manuscript Terminology 1450–2000". Oxford University Press. 
  • Beltramini; Gasparotto (2016). Aldo Manuzio Renaissance in Venice. Marsilio Editori. 
  • "Beta Phi Mu Honor Society Website". 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2017. 
  • Blumenthal, Joseph (1973). Art of the Printed Book, 1455–1955: Masterpieces of Typograph through Five Centuries from the Collections of the Pierpont Morgan Library. The Pierpont Morgan Library. 
  • Clemons; Fletcher (2015). Aldus Manutius A Legacy More Lasting than Bronze. The Grolier Club. 
  • Eco, Umberto (1989). Foucault's pendulum. Secker & Warburg. 
  • Fletcher III, Harry George (1995). In praise of Aldus Manutius. Morgan Library. 
  • Fletcher III, Harry George (1988). New Aldine Studies. Bernard M. Rosenthal, Inc. 
  • Friedlander, Joel (2009). Deconstructing Bembo: Typographic Beauty and Bloody Murder. Self-Publishing Review: Professional book reviews and editorial services since 2008. Retrieved 29 June 2017. 
  • Grendler, Paul (1984). Aldus Manutius: Humanist, Teacher, and Printer. The John Carter Brown Library. 
  • "Manuzio". Liber Liber. 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2017. 
  • Lowry, Martin (1991). Nicholas Jenson and the Rise of Venetian Publishing in Renaissance Europe. Basil Blackwell Inc. 
  • Lowry, Martin (1979). The World of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice. Cornell University Press. 
  • Lowry, M.J.C. (1976). "The 'New Academy' of Aldus Manutius: a Renaissance dream" (PDF). Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. Retrieved 7 May 2018. 
  • Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History. Getty Publications. ISBN 9781606060834. 
  • Manutius, Aldus (2017). Aldus Manutius: Humanism and the Latin Classics. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674971639. 
  • Martin, Davies (1995). Aldus Manutius: Printer and publisher of Renaissance Venice. J. Paul Getty Museum. ISBN 9780892363445. 
  • O'day, Edward F. (1928). John Henry Nash: The Aldus of San Francisco. San Francisco Bay Cities Club of Printing House Craftsman. 
  • Richardson, Brian (1994). Print culture in Renaissance Italy: The editor and the vernacular text, 1470–1600. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Sais, Mercy. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Central Rappahannock Regional Library Inspiring Lifelong Learning. Retrieved 29 June 2017. 
  • Schuessler, Jennifer (26 February 2015). "A Tribute to the Printer Aldus Manutius, and the Roots of the Paperback". New York Times. Retrieved 18 May 2018. 
  • Seddon, Tony (2015). The Evolution of Type: A Graphic Guide to 100 Landmark Typefaces. Firefly Books. ISBN 9781770855045. 
  • "Student Publications Spotlight: Aldus Journal of Translation". Brown University: Office of Global Engagement. 2016. Retrieved 29 June 2017. 
  • Symonds, John Addington. "1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 17". Retrieved 23 May 2018. 
  • Truss, Lynn (2004). "Eats, Shoot & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation". Gotham Books. 
  • Zapf, Hermann (2018). "TYPE GALLERY – LINOTYPE ALDUS". The Source of the Originals. Retrieved 30 June 2017. 

Further reading

  • Braida, Lodovica, Stampa e Cultura in Europa (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 2003)
  • Calasso, Roberto (2015). The Art of the Publisher. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Davies, Martin, Aldus Manutius, Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999)
  • Febvre, L. & Martin, H., La nascita del libro (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 2001)
  • Norton, F. J., Italian Printers 1501–20 (1958)
  • Nuovo, Angela (2016). "Aldo Manuzio a Los Angeles. La collezione Ahmanson-Murphy all'University of California Los Angeles". 7 (1): 1–24. doi:10.4403/ 
  • Renouard, Antoine-Augustine, Annales de l'imprimerie des Alde, ou Histoire des trois Manuce et de leurs éditions. (3rd ed. Paris: Jules Renouard, 1834)
  • Rives, Bruno, Aldo Manuzio, passions et secrets d'un Vénitien de génie (Saint- Cloud: Librii, 2008)

External links

  • Media related to Aldus Manutius at Wikimedia Commons
  • Exhibit on Aldus Manutius and his press at the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University
  • Works by Aldus Manutius at Open Library
  • Works by Aldus Manutius at
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