Views of the Universe
The "Emperor's Astronomy"(dedicated to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) elegantly depicts the cosmos and heavens according to the 1400-year-old Ptolemaic system, which maintained that the sun revolved around the earth. By means of hand-colored maps and moveable paper parts (volvelles), Petrus Apianus (1495-1552) laid out the mechanics of a universe that was earth- and human-centered. Within three years of Apianus's book, this view was challenged by Copernicus's assertion that the earth revolved around the sun, making this elaborate publication outdated.
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Popular Sixteenth-Century Scientific Work
Cosmographia (1524) by German mathematician Petrus Apianus (1492-1552) provides a layman's introduction to subjects such as astronomy, geography, cartography, surveying, navigation, and mathematical instruments. In this popular edition with changes by another noted mathematician, Gemma Frisius (1508-1555), movable paper instruments (volvelles) enabled readers to solve calendar problems and find the positions of the sun, moon, and the planets. Apianus depicted the cosmos according to the 1400-year-old Ptolemaic system, which maintained that the sun revolved around the earth, a theory challenged by Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) in Apianus's lifetime.
Petrus Apianus and Gemma Frisius. Cosmographia, Petri Apiani . . . additis euisdem argumenti libellis ipsius Gemmaa Frisii. . . . (Cosmographia of Petrus Apianus, . . . carefully corrected and with all errors set to right by Gemma Frisius. . . .). Antwerp: Arnoldi Birckmanni, 1564. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (76.2)
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A Heliocentric Cosmos
This volume is the first edition of the work that set forth evidence that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun. Written by Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), and published just before his death, the work was met by tremendous opposition because it contradicted religious beliefs of the time. The Copernican views provided the basis for the later work of Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Galileo (1564-1642), and Isaac Newton (1642-1727).
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Chinese Armillary Sphere
This wood-block printed book from 1633, an expansion of one printed in 1461, illustrates Chinese theories of early astronomy in the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, when there was great interest in celestial phenomena. The armillary sphere shown indicates the motions of the sun and moon, as well as the stars and constellations. Also, the four seasons are arranged in order according to their progressions and retrogradations.
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Ancient Chinese Concept of Change
The book is an explanation of the "Ba Gua" used in the Yi-ching (I Ching or Classic of Changes, also known as the Book of Divination). According to this Chinese world view, the universe is run by a single principle, the Tao, or Great Ultimate. This principle is divided into two opposite principles--yin and yang. All phenomena can be understood using yin-yang and five associated agents, which affect the movements of the stars, the workings of the body, the nature of foods, the qualities of music, the ethical qualities of humans, the progress of time, the operations of government, and even the nature of historical change.
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Written in the fourteenth century, this philosophical work incorporates in its fifth chapter the astronomical theories of Levi ben Gershom (1288-1344), one of the greatest medieval astronomers. Gershom's major contributions to astronomy included the invention of the "Jacob's Staff," an instrument that measured visual angles. On the basis of observations made possible by the new invention, he was able to make essential adjustments and corrections to the Ptolemaic system.
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Earth-Centered Universe View
This illustration from William Cuningham's The Cosmographical Glasse (1559) represents Ptolemy's conception of the universe. Atlas, dressed like an ancient king, bears on his shoulders an armillary sphere representing the universe. In the center of the sphere is earth, made up of the elements of earth and water. Surrounding the earth are two more elemental spheres, for air and for fire. Other bands represent the spheres of the planets, the firmament of fixed stars, the crystalline sphere, the primum mobile, and the signs of the zodiac. Below Atlas are lines on cosmological themes from Virgil's Aeneid.
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Earth, Air, Fire, and Water
The thirteenth-century De proprietatibus rerum (The Properties of Things) preserved and distilled much learning from antiquity as well as the Middle Ages. For more than two centuries Europeans pondered the material world through this encyclopedic text, circulated in both Latin and vernacular manuscripts like this French one. In it are Ptolemy's scheme of the planets and Aristotle's theories of the structure of matter (shown) in the illustration. For Aristotle, the elements of earth, air, fire, and water were different aspects of a single substance called "primary matter."
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Descartes's Mechanical Philosophy
According to French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650), the universe operated as a continuously running machine which God had set in motion. Since he rejected Newton's theory of gravity and idea of a vacuum in space, Descartes argued that instead the universe was composed of a "subtle matter" he named "plenum," which swirled in vortices like whirlpools and actually moved the planets by contact. Here, these vortices carry the planets around the Sun.
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Galileo's Views of the Moon
The first telescopic drawings of the Moon were made and published by Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) in 1610. Because he showed the Moon to be a solid body with irregular surface features, he would later argue that the Earth was not unique. Using simple geometry, he used the shadows cast by the lunar mountains to calculate correctly their height. This led to his disagreement with Aristotle's theory of an immutable universe and to his controversial defense of the Copernican system in 1632.
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First Atlas of the Moon
Thirty-seven years after Galileo (1564-1642) made the first drawings of the moon as it looked through his telescope, the famous Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687) published Selenographia, the first lunar atlas. The book also deals with the construction of telescopes and with the observation of celestial bodies in general. The author himself engraved the 110 illustrations, including the large double-paged maps of the moon, one of which is shown. The level of detail reveals the rapid advances in telescope optics that had taken place since Galileo's 1610 moon drawings.
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Picturing the Universe
Before the revolutionary, sun-centered ideas of Copernicus, the traditional geocentric or earth-centered universe was usually depicted by concentric circles. In this popular German work on natural history, medicine, and science, Konrad von Megenberg (1309-1374) depicted the universe in a most unusual but effective manner. The seven known planets are contained within straight horizontal bands which separate the Earth below from Heaven, populated by the saints, above.
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The Four Elements
The illustration from this French edition of the thirteenth-century encyclopedic work De proprietatibus rerum (The Properties of Things) shows Christ as creator standing on an orb of the world to proclaim his earthly supremacy. With his right hand, He manipulates fire while His left hand gestures toward the earth. By tradition, these two elements were the starting materials for creation. Air in the upper right circle and water in the lower left one stand ready for use between the two extremes of fire and earth. Medieval European scholars learned the theory of the elements from the works of Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), who for nearly two thousand years was considered the supreme authority on all physical matters.
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Buddhist Cosmological Map
The Buddhist (monk) Zonto created a trilogy of scroll maps--one of the Buddhist mythological world and the real world, one of India with old Buddhist names and descriptions, and this one representing the Buddhist philosophical world. This stepped diagram has the relatively small actual world (the small green and orange area) sandwiched between seven levels of hell and seven levels of heaven. The actual world map, which has India at the center with China and Japan large and Europe small, shows Western influences and includes America.
The second map represents the Buddhist mythological and real worlds. The upper half of the map depicts the seven great forests interwoven with seven rivers, the Sun God Palace, and the "Great Jambu Tree." The tree is described as 10,000 miles high and bearing the most delicious fruits. Only those who cultivated the divine power can visit the tree. The central section is the Sun God Palace in heaven.
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Traditional Korean Maps
From the oldest known examples (perhaps from the sixteenth century) to almost the end of the tradition in the nineteenth century, the content and structure of traditional Korean maps such as these examples changed very little. The map of the world (or Chonhado) presents Korea, China, and their East Asian neighbors surrounded by rings of exotic, mythical lands and peoples and reflects the traditional Korean view that the world was flat. Being a peninsula, Korea stood out on the map and was close to China, the classical center of Asian civilization. Korean military security concerns about China and Japan stimulated the creation of maps such as the one of Korea only, which provides information on the military and naval defenses of Korea’s eight provinces. The map of Cholla Province, the southwestern part of Korea, is typical of the atlases of individual provinces which were prepared during the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910).
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Choson Kukto (Map of China) from Chonha Chido (Map of the World). Hand-copied manuscript map. Korea: mid-eighteenth century. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (77.2b)
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Persian Celestial Globe
While most globes constructed prior to 1900 are hollow and made of plaster, this globe is a solid wooden sphere on which the celestial information is delicately painted. The constellations are configured according to Arabic tradition. Of the seventy pre-1900 globes in the Library's collection, this is the only one representing traditional Islamic astronomy, and, of the Islamic globes currently held in the United States, this is the only wooden one.
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Earliest Globe in the Library's Collections
This finely crafted terrestrial globe within an armillary sphere is the work of Caspar Vopell (1511-1561), a German mathematics teacher and scholar. Vopell depicts North American and Asia as one land mass, a common misconception of the time. The armillary sphere, with its interlocking rings that illustrate the circles of the sun, moon, known planets, and important stars as well as the signs of the zodiac, is a model of the Ptolemaic or earth-centered cosmic system. Ironically, the globe was constructed in the same year that Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) published his revolutionary theory that the sun is the center of the solar system.
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Explaining the Heavens
Tibetan Astrological Thangka
Tibetan astrology depicts the signs and symbols of the universe in this traditional format, possibly introduced from China as early as the seventh century and popular in Tibet since the seventeenth century. The central figure is a large golden tortoise, representing the Bodhisattva of Knowledge, upon whom are drawn various geomantic diagrams, such as the nine magic squares and symbols of the eight planets. This type of Thangka is often hung in homes for protection and displayed for special occasions.
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French scientists and artists accompanying Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 produced Description de l'Égypte, a twenty-two volume publication that essentially established the modern science of Egyptology. Here is an engraving of an ancient Egyptian diagram of the heavens from the Temple of Dendara, depicting the sky on the date of the founding of the temple in 54 B.C. The falcon-headed gods symbolize eternity and the goddesses relate to the four directions.
Description de l'Égypte ou, Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l'expédition de l'armée française publié par les ordres de Sa Majesté l'empereur Napoléon le Grand (Description of Egypt...). A. vol. 4, plate 21. Paris: Commission des sciences et arts d'Égypte, 1809-1822. Copper-plate engraving. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (83)
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Astronomy and Astrology
Initially Muslim astronomers believed that the earth rested motionless at the center of a series of eight spheres, the last of which was studded with fixed stars revolving daily from east to west, and at times from west to east. Muslim astronomers were influenced by Sanskrit, Sasanian, Syraic, and Greek texts on astronomy, which they amended. Rami, the Sagitarius in this illustration from an eighteenth-century copy of a book by 'Abd al Rahman ibn 'Umar al-Sufi (d. 986), has a set of twenty-nine gold spots that represents a stellar constellation.
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Illustrated Calendrical Observations
This book is one in a three-volume set whose illustrations include the author's seasonal observations of lunar eclipses. The set is one over four hundred traditional Japanese mathematics volumes, called wasan, found in the Library's collection. With its complex algebraic formulae and the study of geometric figures, wasan was used by members of the samurai and later of the merchant class. In 1872, the Meiji government discouraged the teaching of wasan in Japanese schools and promoted the teaching of Western mathematics.
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Constellations from Classical Antiquity
The star charts of Reiner Ottens (1698-1750) were intended first and foremost as a feast for the eye and had no pretensions to scientific precision or the presentation of the most recent cartographic information. The constellations on this chart are elaborately represented by figures from classical antiquity. In the corners of the chart are illustrations of four European observatories, including that of the noted sixteenth-century astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). This atlas is a seven-volume compendium of assembled-to-order star charts and geographical maps.
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An unidentified lady, referred to by her nom-de-plume, Jehoshaphat Aspin, designed these whimsical astronomy cards. Most of the names of the zodiacal constellations date from the early Babylonian period, possibly from the Sumerians. The zodiac itself is a mathematical concept, which does not appear to be in use prior to 400 B.C. It provides a frame of reference in which the positions of the sun, moon, and planets could be expressed by their angular distance from the beginning of the sign in which they were located.
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Constellations as Christian Saints
Some of the most splendid star charts of all time appeared in the only Dutch celestial atlas, Harmonia macrocosmica . . . , by Andreas Cellarius. The true purpose of this great atlas was scientific and Cellarius's charts reflect the highest levels of seventeenth century astronomical theory and observation. This chart from the second edition of the atlas (1708) shows the constellations in the form of Christian saints, in contrast to the better known patterns of classical antiquity which were based on the writings of second century geographer Claudius Ptolemy.
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The Nine Hindu Planets
In Hindu astrology human destinies and earthly events are ruled by nine planets, namely the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and the ascending and descending nodes of the moon (the points where eclipses take place). The word for "planet" is graha, "grabber," and is also applied to supernatural beings that possess people or cause illness. The deities of these nine planets are portrayed in a folding book (thyasapu) from Nepal, written in the Newari and Sanskrit languages. The spells or prayers (mantras) for dealing with the deities' adverse effects are also given.
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The Moon and Sun in Their Chariots
In Hindu astrology human destinies and earthly events are ruled by nine planets, namely the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and the ascending and descending nodes of the moon (the points where eclipses take place). In this nineteenth-century book in Hindi and Sanskrit, the gods Chandra (the Moon) and Surya (the Sun) are shown. In India the moon disk is thought to show either a deer or a hare. Consequently the moon's chariot is shown drawn by deer or, as in this image, by gazelles. Because the sun is associated with horses, they pull his chariot. The book gives instructions on talismans and rituals to protect against the adverse influences of planetary deities.
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In the doctrine of Theravada Buddhism, as in other religions of Indian origin, a sentient being may transmigrate through an endless series of lives as a human being, an animal, a denizen of the hells, a god, or other supernatural being. The many heavens for various sorts of gods are temporary abodes only, and the ultimate goal is not to stay in them forever but to escape from the whole cycle to Nirvana. This Burmese folding manuscript, probably from the eighteenth century, shows a number of these heavens as floating palaces and describes their different names and properties.
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Transmission of Classical Astronomy to West
The frontispiece of this copy of his most famous work shows the Islamic astrologer, Jafar Ibn Muhammad Abu Mashar al-Balkhi (805(?)-886), known as Abu Mashar holding an armillary sphere. Despite his emphasis on astrology, Abu Mashar was a key link in the transmission of Hellenistic astronomy to the West. For instance, Abu Mashar consulted Greek texts when he wrote. His work was translated from Arabic into Latin in the twelfth century and was held in great esteem by Medival and Renaissance intellectuals.
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There by to see the minutes how they run;
How many make the hour full complete,
How many hours bring about the day,
How many days will finish up the year,
How many years a mortal man may live.
William ShakespeareHenry VI, Part 3.
Almanacs (pancangas) are used by many Hindus to regulate most activities in accordance with the good and bad positions of the heavenly bodies and lucky and unlucky days and to determine the dates of various religious festivals. Very few illustrated manuscript almanacs survive because most were used and discarded or cut up and sold by antique dealers. This one shows a couple on horseback, the elephant-headed god Ganesha, who is invoked as patron of auspicious beginnings, and figures representing deities, the planets, the zodiac, and other astrological phenomena.
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Chinese Farmer's Almanac
Like people engaged in agriculture in other cultures, Chinese farmers observed the changing cycle of the moon and other celestial phenomena to determine when to perform their farming activities. The earliest Chinese farmer's calendar, on which this seventeenth-century example is based, can be traced back to 5141-5042 B.C.
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Aztec Calendar Wheel
The Aztec calendar represents 260 days of thirteen months (each containing twenty days) which determined the life of each Mexica (Aztec). In Aztec society, priests would consult the calendar to determine auspicious days for weddings and other important events. The portion displayed here contains the symbols for each day and the sun, moon, and stars. Fernández Echeverría y Veytia (1718-1780 ) drew these pictures of the calendar wheel in the early nineteenth century from documents written prior to the Spanish conquest in 1521.
Mariano Fernández Echeverría y Veytia. Calendar Wheel, no. 7 from Historia del origen de las gentes que poblaron la América septentrional (History of the Beginnings of the People Who Settled North America). Early nineteenth-century facsimile manuscript. Peter Force Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (93)
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This book by the mathematician and astronomer called "Regiomontanus" (1436-1476) began the transition to the new, reformed Gregorian calendar. Because the Christian Easter was based on the flawed Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.), that holy day had gradually drifted from its spring observance tied to the Jewish Passover. Regiomontanus died soon after being summoned to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV (reigned 1471 to 1484) to begin reform. Calendar change was not achieved until 1582 under Pope Gregory XIII (reigned 1572 to 1585).
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Johannes Mueller, called “Regiomontanus.” Calendarium (Calendar). Nuremberg: 1474. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (94)
Johannes Mueller, called “Regiomontanus.” Calendarium (Calendar). Illustrated by Bernhard Maler. Venice: Erhard Ratdolt and Peter Løslein,1476. Rosenwald Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (94.2)
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Omens in the Sun
This manuscript of the mid-nineteenth century, possibly of Sgau Karen origin (the Karen are a minority people in the mountainous parts of Burma), shows various appearances in the sun, the moon, clouds, etc., and indicates the primarily bad omens these appearances foretell. Explanations in English were added to this manuscript by a nineteenth-century American missionary.
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Aztec Calendar Stone
In 1790 workers repaving near the Cathedral in Mexico City discovered a stone eleven and one-half feet in diameter inscribed with the Aztec calendar. When in use, the stone would have had bright polychrome colors and would have held sacrificed human hearts that the Aztecs believed were needed to feed the sun and keep civilization alive. This first study (pictured to the left) of the stone explained its 260-day divinatory cycle. The stone's colossal size, elaborate patterning, and symbolic imagery have made it an unofficial emblem of Mexico.
This book (on the right), by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, director of the excavations of the central Aztec temple (Templo Mayor), uses color overlays to show how the stone, known as the "Piedra del sol" (sunstone), would have looked on the Aztec great temple. The volume also includes a facsimile of the first study of the stone published in 1792 by Antonio de León y Gama. Its colossal size, elaborate patterning, and symbolic imagery have made the sunstone an unofficial emblem of Mexico.
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Antonio de León y Gama. Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras . . . . Mexico City: F. Zuniga y Ontiveros, 1792. Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (95)
Eduardo Matos Moctezuma. La Piedra del Sol. Calendario Azteca (Sunstone. The Aztec Calendar). México: 1992. General Collections, Library of Congress (95.1)
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This Ethiopian manuscript, in the languages of Amharic and Geez, is open to a page explaining the mathematical system for fixing the movable feasts and fasts of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Ethiopian year consists of 365 days, divided into twelve months of thirty days each plus one additional month of five days (six in leap years). Ethiopian New Year's Day falls on September 11 and ends the following September 10, according to the Gregorian (Western) calendar.
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Sutra of the 1,000 Buddhas
In the Tibetan Buddhist world view, time is measured in kalpas, vast time spans of millions of years, during which things progress and decline, only to begin again. This Mahayana Buddhist sutra describes the Bhadrakalpa, our present aeon, wherein 1,000 Buddhas will appear. This seventeenth-century Tibetan manuscript in two large volumes is written in gold ink on paper. It is illlustrated with over 600 roundels depicting the future Buddhas on loose pages like the one shown.
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Japanese Calendar, 1882
Believing that the movements of the heavens and earth controlled human affairs, ancient scholars in East Asia studied astrology and geomancy (divination by line or geographical features) to develop calendars that determined the seasons and human activities. The displayed volume contains calendars followed by the Japanese in their daily life.
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Chinese Divination Studies, 1580
Scholars in ancient China studied the natural phenomena of the sky to determine their effects on human destiny. The illustration on the right depicts an eclipse, indicating bloodshed and fighting in the country and the future overthrow of the top official (emperor). In contrast, the illustration on the left, showing a rabbit in the moon (rather than a man, as in European folklore), is a good omen. A bright moon indicates that prosperity is at hand.
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The Jewish Lunisolar Calendar
Because the Jewish calendar is lunisolar--the months being reckoned by the moon and the year by the sun--astronomical expertise is needed to harmonize the two so that religious obligations can be discharged on the correct days and at their appointed times. This edition (the fifth) of Eliezer ben Jacob Belin's Sefer Ebronot, published in Offenbach, Germany, in 1722, is noted for its astronomical-mathematical charts and illustrations. Notable among these are the circular chart and the multilayered paper volvelles.
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