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  • King Arthur pulled the sword Excalibur from the stone, thus proving he was rightful king of England. Except that in most versions of the legend the sword he pulled out was an entirely separate (usually unnamed) sword. Excalibur was given him by the Lady of the Lake after the Sword in the Stone broke.
    • Also, it seems to be Common Knowledge on this wiki that the Sword in the Stone is called Caliburn. It's not. Caliburn is simply an older word for 'Excalibur', and whilst it has been used in some of the original tellings of the legend to mean the Sword in the Stone, that's only in versions of the legend where Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone are the same sword (or, at least, have the same name). The notion of Caliburn and Excalibur being different swords came much later.
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    • In the earlier texts, the Holy Grail was not a cup, nor was it even referred to as holy. It its first appearance, Perceval, le Conte du Graal, which translates into The Story of the Grail, it appeared as a dish.
      • It's also worth observing that the King Arthur stories are older than the Holy Grail's inclusion. There are a lot of people who think the King Arthur tales are always about Holy Grails and Lancelot/Guinevere betrayals and don't realize versions exist without them.
    • King Arthur is properly a legendary king of Britain, not England; in early traditions Arthur is said to have fought the Anglo-Saxons who gave the name England ("land of the Angles") to Britain. In Arthurian romances from the continent, Arthur's kingdom also encompassed Brittany, indeed Brittany is the main setting of these romances (the Breton Arthurian tradition is the reason for the interest of French writers in the matière de Bretagne), a fact often downplayed by his English, Cornish and Welsh fans.
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    • Merlin himself is actually taken from an even older story about a Welsh bard and trickster, Myrddn Wyllt.
  • Robin Hood is commonly known as a rich boy/commoner who became an outlaw after he killed the King's deer/inspired revolt, that he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor and that he romanced Maid Marian and lived in Sherwood Forrest with his Merry Men, fighting against the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. Already we have some conflicting information, but really, most of what we "know" about Robin Hood was added much, much later, including the idea that the earliest legends didn't include Maid Marian, Little John or even the most quintessential element, his robbing from the rich and giving to the poor! In fact, the latter was mostly popularized by the 1973 Disney Animated Film, which explicitly used the phrase, but the earliest legends had Robin either attempting to use the money to pay for the ransom of King Richard from Leopold of Austria, or simply taking back the money and lands the Robber Barons of England (who weren't always the Sheriff of Nottingham, either!) had illegally taken from the serfs and giving it back to the people it rightfully belonged to.
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  • Oedipus killed his father and slept with his mother. While that is factually true, most people assume that he knew about this fact, which he didn't. He had no clue that the man he killed was his father nor that the woman he had sex with was his mother. His parents in fact had their son's fate foretold to them, so they left him for dead. He was then adopted and, once he reached adulthood, heard a similar prophecy and went to drastic lengths to avoid doing such horrible things to people he thought were his parents. He then got into a fight with a stranger and killed him, not knowing that it was the king of Thebes. He later married the recently widowed queen of Thebes as a reward for ridding the city of the Sphinx on his way to the city; some versions of the story have the queen wearing a necklace that kept her youthful, thus making it even less likely that Oedipus would think she was his mother. It was many years again before anyone learned the truth. The Oedipus Complex which is named after him doesn't help this misconception; in fact Freud might be solely responsible for it.note  It's worth mentioning that Oedipus was so horrified and disgusted when he learned that he had murdered his father and had sex with his mother, that he gouged his own eyes out (presumably the ancient Greek equivalent of Brain Bleach).
  • There is no singular "the" Buddha. "Buddha" is a state of being that very few can achieve, Siddhartha Gautama being among them, the only one within human history as we know it. This is why some Buddha statues depict an obese Chinese man rather than a thin Indian one; this is a tenth-century monk whose future incarnation is believed to be the Maitreya Buddha, who will end our age. It's correct to call Siddhartha "Gautama Buddha" as a title, and most people will assume you're talking about him when you say "The Buddha", but it's important to remember that there are multiple branches of Buddhism which emphasize different Buddhas as objects of veneration and imitation. In fact, Buddhism posits that everybody can become a Buddha, and furthermore, that it's the goal of every living thing. There are even Bodhisattvas, people who have achieved enlightenment but refuse to enter Nirvana until everybody else in the world has achieved the Buddha-state as well.
    • To be exact, during life you can train your mind to full enlightment. Then after death you can just leave the eternal reborn cycle and your mind will move to Paranirvana. Or, you can reborn back, to help other living things. Gautama himself left us for Paranirvana, he will never come back and he doesn’t exists anymore.
  • Classical Mythology
    • As a general note, many classical scholars have warned against confusing Greek Religion with Greek Mythology. For instance, taking The Iliad as definitive evidence about what the Greeks believed would be like taking Paradise Lost as a Christian religious text. It appears that the Greeks themselves had some trouble with this distinction, something that Socrates famously lamented in Plato's Republic.
    • Myths do not state that Atlas was forced to hold the Earth on his shoulders. Atlas and his brother Menoetius sided with the Titans in the Titanomachy, the war between the Titans and the Olympians. After the Titans were defeated, Zeus punished Atlas for his betrayal by making him stand at the western edge of Gaia (i.e. the Earth) and hold up Uranus (the heavens) on his shoulders. Uranus being the husband of Gaia in Greek mythology, this had the effect of ensuring the two would never be able to embrace again. In classical art, Atlas is often depicted as holding up the celestial sphere. The misconception of him having to hold up the Earth possibly comes from the Farnese Atlas, which was a 2nd-century Roman marble copy of a Hellenistic sculpture that depicted Atlas kneeling with a globe weighing heavily on his shoulders.
    • Hades was not the Greek expy of Satan (comic-strip gags notwithstanding). In fact, the two literally have nothing in common. Satan is a corrupting influence who exists on Earth, and will be punished at the end of time by being thrown into Hell, where he will be just as much a prisoner as its other denizens. Hades is the ruler of the Underworld, which is where people go after they die. He is a generally a benevolent ruler, and by all accounts a pretty nice guy. In fact, his wife Persephone was generally considered the one to fear between the two of them. It's primarily in Anglo-American folklore that (wrongly) views Satan as the king of Hell, which has decided that the Underworld = Hell and thus Hades = Satan. The power attributed to both of them is also completely incomparable; Satan has no power on Earth or in hell, merely being a tempter, whereas Hades not only has dominion over the Underworld, but is, at worst the second most powerful of all the gods not named Zeus. On the flip-side, it is common to over-correct this misconception and suggest that Hades was considered a beloved, joyful figure in Greek Mythology. The Greeks at best regarded death as a grim inevitability, so Hades was still usually considered a fearful figure in Greek society, and kowtowing to him was at best kind of creepy. His name was considered taboo, hymns to him were extremely melancholy, he is described as disliked by both gods and mortals in a variety of Classical sources, and his cult was small and its priests were considered The Dreaded. Also Hades, while not hell unless you were exceptionally evil, was also not a fun place, and not having to go there when you died was a privilege reserved only for the greatest of mortals. Classical scholar Edith Hamilton puts it well when she describes the Greek perception of Hades as "terrible, but not evil."
    • Zeus, meanwhile, is not the equivalent of, or even similar to, the Judeo-Christian God. While more powerful than all the gods of Olympus combined, he was neither omnipotent or omniscient. He was wiser and stronger than any mortal could possibly be, but he still had his limits, and was tricked from time to time. He was also not considered to be all-good, and is often called out on his selfishness, capriciousness, and greed by other gods. Depictions of him vary in this respect, and some have argued that his infamous sexual escapades are the result of mixing local myths of divine heroes with the Zeus myths, an interpretation that the Romans took a shine to when they incorporated some of the Zeus myths into their own god Jupiter. Also, despite this, the Greek conception of Zeus was overwhelmingly positive, given that he was the protector of many important Greek values, including the Olympics, the concept of xenia, and the importance of oaths, which meant that the Greeks saw him as doing a phenomenal amount of good for their society, and there are many myths where he kindly helps the hero or doles out a Karmic Death to the villain. The modern conception of Zeus as a Jerkass God is largely the result of Values Dissonance combined with overemphasizing and misinterpreting certain myths and literary works. It's not for nothing that philosophers like Plato thought that the less than savory stories about Zeus were demoralizing.
    • Pandora was never given a Box in any classic myth. The idea of "Pandora's Box" is Newer Than They Think, credited to the Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus, due to an error in his translation of Hesiod's Pandora in which he confused pithos (storage jar) with pyxis (box).
    • Despite certain nations using it as such, the Caduceus, with its heavenly angelic wings and the two serpents, is not a symbol of health. It is a symbol of commerce and the effigy of Hermes. Not to say there isn't a Greek symbol for health that is a rod and snake, but its the Rod of Asclepius and it only had the one snake and zero wings.
    • The Roman gods are usually described as being the Greek gods with the names swapped out. In fact, they were more likely existing Roman gods that were altered to adopt traits of the Hellenistic pantheon after Greek culture started spreading around. Such a thing isn't at all uncommon in mythologies - Hermes adopted a number of traits from Thoth of the Egyptian pantheon. Apollo didn't "keep his name"; it was just that the cult of Apollo was popular in both countries. The Romans also had a number of myths all their own, and their actual religious practices were fairly distinct.
    • People will frequently call Hercules one of the greatest, if not the greatest, hero of Greek mythology. But Hercules was the name of his Roman counterpart. His Greek name was Heracles. Speaking of, people will often call Heracles a brutish meathead, frequently when talking about how different the idea of a hero in Ancient Greece is from the modern conception of one. However, while Heracles did have a bad habit of letting his emotions get the better of him, he wasn't an idiot. To the contrary, he was an intelligent and cunning man, and his smarts arguably played a role comparable to his Super Strength in his achievements.note 
    • Hestia gave her throne to Dionysus after he ascended to Olympus, right? Well, this is commonly assumed to be the case (and is often claimed to be such, even in more academic sources), but there's no mention of it ever happening in the original myths.
    • Everyone "knows" Medusa was originally a beautiful human woman who got turned into a gorgon by Athena as punishment for being raped by Poseidon in one of the goddess' temples. But in reality, this origin seems to have been invented by Ovid out of whole cloth for The Metamorphoses. Earlier versions of her myth say she was always a horrible monster, though where exactly she came from varied.
    • The giants in Greek myth being, well, giant. It's an easy assumption to make, and some giants do seem to have been larger than the average man, but most artwork of the era depicts them as the same size as humans. The confusion seems to arise from a Greek translation of the Bible that chose the term to refer to the Nephilim, who were indeed universally bigger than humans, leading to the word developing that meaning.
    • Satyrs are nature spirits resembling human men with the ears and tail of a horse. The guys with goat horns, legs, and tail (e.g. Mr. Tumnus) are called fauns. Despite this, you see people mix them up or even use the terms interchangeably all the time.
  • Loki was a full-blooded jotun, not a half-jotun. Also, the common belief that jotun = frost giant. They weren't all frosty and they weren't all giant. In reality, "jotun" meant something along the lines of "devourer", and it signified beings that were not Aesir or Vanir, but too powerful and long-lived to be called mortals. Many jotun in Norse myth seem to be of ordinary stature, most obviously Loki. It was conflated with the Greek word "gigantes", which had a similar connotation (and see that entry for how that confusion happened).
  • Many Germans think the Nibelungenlied showcases how Siegfried battles a dragon and thereby wins a huge treasure hoard. In the original, the fight with the dragon is totally out of focus, being related only via flashback and covered in a single four-line stanza. Also, the fight with the dragon in is totally unrelated to the winning of the hoard. Both misconceptions result from Adaptation Displacement.
  • For Christianity; everybody "knows" that Satan and the demons rule over hell to torment the damned. Except that The Bible plainly says that Satan and his demons will be punished right along with the damned. Hell is Satan's prison, not his kingdom. Also, Satan, along with every other demon, was once a glorious angel, and they rebelled against God. In Christian belief, nothing originated as evil.
    • Satan doesn't look like a red guy with horns and pitchfork either. According to Revelation 12:3 (the only physical description of Satan in the Bible) he looks like a seven headed dragon with ten horns.
    • The word "ha-satan" in Hebrew literally means "the adversary" "the accuser" or "the prosecutor". This is made fairly explicit in the book of Job, where Satan is a angelic minion whose purpose is to test humans to see if they will continue to obey the laws of God when forced to suffer. Furthermore, the fact that it starts with "ha-"—"the"—means that it's actually more of a title than anything else. Lucifer is just the most well-known Satan.
    • On a related note, "antichrist" is not a singular according to the Bible, but a plural. It refers to anyone opposing Christ and or the Christian religion-thus, it's really anti-Christ. This was later combined with the Beast or Man of Sin in revelation, who of course would also be "anti-Christ" going by this.
    • Continuing the Hell theme: fire, brimstone and eternal torment are often described as "Old Testament". The Old Testament does not mention Hell at all. The entire concept comes from the New Testament — and is notably absent in Judaism — mainly from the Gospels and the Book of Revelation, which describes God throwing death, Hell, etc. into a lake of fire and brimstone, after Judgment Day.
    • The word "Hell" is an English word that is used to translate a variety of different words from Hebrew and Greek in the Bible, the actual words used in the New Testament are generally Sheol or Gehenna, both of which are used in the Old Testament. Sheol is the land of the dead and equivalent to Hades; Gehenna- the OT sometimes gives it an older name- is a valley outside Jerusalem where apostate Hebrews and pagans would sacrifice their children to the Caananite gods in burnt offerings. Only one of them — Gehenna — implied punishment, the other was just where people go when they die. The Greek translation maintained this distinction by using Hades and Tartarus respectively, but early English lacked the words to make this distinction, so they were all just translated into "hell." This leads to a bit of confusion in some cases, and is one of the sources of the misconception that Hades was the ancient Greek equivalent to hell. In fact, this is sometimes used by those who oppose the concept of hell to assert that it is an imposition of Greek culture foreign to the religion (which is not necessarily true; it's just a quirk of translation). Hell is also not a strictly Abrahamic concept, though obviously the details and what the realm is called varies by tradition. Most religions that believe in some form of afterlife have some variant of a hell realm, the ones that believe in reincarnation simply believe your stay there is long, but temporary.
    • Also, the Immaculate Conception is not the conception of Jesus by the Virgin Mary, but the idea that Mary herself was born free from original sin. This doctrine, having been defined by the Catholic Church and obviously requiring a belief in original sin in the first place, is not universal to Christian denominations.
    • Anything covered by Word of Dante qualifies. Paradise Lost especially has greatly changed how people view the basic relation between Satan and God, despite not being intended or recognized as canon.
    • Our Angels Are Different. The Bible implies angels have human forms but they are not cute cupids. Angels don't have gender, their faces are either covered by multiple wings or have a bizarre description. For example, Ezekiel describes a Cherub (Cherubim is plural) as a winged creature with four faces (one of a human, and 3 of animals) and the entire body full of EYES. There is a very good reason that one of the first things an angel will usually say to a mortal is a variation of the phrase, "Be not afraid"; they know their appearance is terrifying. The idea of pretty winged humanoids comes from Renaissance artworks, which were meant to be aesthetically pleasing, not accurate.
    • Mary Magdalene was never identified as a whore. She is mentioned for the first time in a passage following one about an adulteress. The two women were combined hundreds of years later in order to cut down on the number of characters. Mary came to Jesus with "demons in her head," most likely referring to her having some sort of mental illness that he cured. In addition, we never see Mary Magdalene anoint Jesus with perfume or wash his feet in the Gospels. The unnamed "woman who was a sinner" mentioned above did that, and much later, just before his death, a different Mary anointed him with perfume again—but that was Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Mary, like James, John, and Joshua, was a pretty common name back then.note 
    • On the subject of Biblical whores, the woman to be stoned in John was certainly not one. She was an adulteress, which under Mosaic law, meant she must have been married; a single woman sleeping with a married man was not considered adultery. Non-religious prostitution was still legal at the time.
    • The Bible rarely refers to women as being prostitutes. The word often translated as such (זנה) actually means a sexually or religious loose person. While the word could be used for a prostitute and at times it is heavily implied (such as Judah giving a gift to a random woman he picked up) it is never outright stated they are. It is more often used to refer to people that are not committed to their religion.
    • No one actually has anything more than a general idea of what Jesus looks like; just about every depiction of Jesus that exists now has some form of artistic license applied. We do know, both from the Gospel accounts and the prophecies of Isaiah (if you consider the latter to refer to Jesus at all), that he was not considered very attractive, and in fact was so physically unremarkable that he couldn't be picked out from a crowd. Arraying him in ethereal beauty dressed in kingly majesty is meant to be entirely symbolic of his resurrected and glorified form, not an accurate depiction of what he looked like in life. On the question of ethnicity, there is a great deal of regional variation, usually coinciding with what is considered attractive in that time and place. Based on the earliest icons and keeping in mind his description in the scriptural sources, Jesus, while not necessarily dark-skinned, was almost certainly a good deal darker than what Western European and North American people would consider a white person today. For reference, he probably had a skin tone on par with the people who live in the north of Egypt today. Also keep in mind that, looking phenomenally typical for a Semitic person living in the Mediterranean at the time, he was likely bearded and had shoulder-length hair, if not shorter.
    • Of the four horsemen of the first four seals, only Death's role is made explicit. War and Famine are identified by the first carrying a large sword and going off to make war and sow strife, and the second holding a scale while a voice behind him cites hugely inflated grain prices and warns against touching pricier goods. Fair enough. Pestilence is thornier, and indeed, to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches the first horseman is "Conquest," since he identifies himself as a conqueror; other traditions have him as Christ himself or the Antichrist. Since conquest and war are so closely related, however, a minority of theologians came to the conclusion that this is the metaphorical conqueror of "Pestilence," and this idea somehow stuck.
    • Everyone knows that the Mark of Cain was a curse placed upon Cain by God. Except that, if you actually read the story, it isn't. God cursed Cain, then when Cain complained that on top of that anyone he met would kill him, God blessed him with a mark of protection such that any who harmed him would suffer vengeance sevenfold. This countered Cain's objection and ensured that he would only suffer the intended curse.
    • What an archangel is varies depending on who you ask, but the Bible only mentions one, and that is Michael. Christian tradition is that every named angel is an archangel, which includes Gabriel and (sometimes) Raphael, and Jewish tradition recognizes anywhere between one and ten archangels, again, depending upon who you ask. But Michael remains the only angel explicitly revered to as the Archangel, to the point where if "archangel" is mentioned in the Bible without a name, it's generally assumed to be referring to Michael. The idea of archangels as a genus of angels with higher status is largely rooted in Medieval mysticism and angeology.
    • Christians do not become angels when they go to heaven. They just go to heaven. Angels are an entirely separate order created by God, and none of them were ever human. There is a term for a human soul that resides in Heaven- a Saint.
    • Noah did not just bring two of every animal aboard the ark. He brought two pairs of every unclean animal, seven pairs of every clean animal, and seven pairs of every bird. And it wasn't for eating; they weren't actually supposed to eat any until the flood was done. Animal sacrifice was part of worship at this time, and Noah sacrificed a lamb when they survived the flood, so they needed the spare clean animals for this as well.
    • The Magi did not come to visit Christ on the day of his birth at the stable. By then, some time had passed and Jesus's family is noted to be living in a house.note  Indeed, the story of Herod and the Magi is found in Matthew, whereas the story of the census and the inn is in Luke - nothing in Matthew suggests that Mary and Joseph did not live in Bethlehem before fleeing to Egypt (the two birth narratives, while not necessarily irreconcilable, have very few details in common). On that note, Common Knowledge has it that there were three, and only three, magi. The Bible does not specify a number, but speaks of a group, who give three gifts. Additionally, the very idea that Jesus was born in an inn's stable is itself Common Knowledge, fueled by a bad translation; the word "Kataluma" is more accurately translated (even within the Bible itself) as "guest rooms". He was most likely born in the living room of some relatives who had taken their flock in for the night. The stable would be the warmest area of the house.
    • Job's wife did not die. His children all died, and his slaves, but his wife is actually a minor character in her own right (Job's misfortunes all come in the opening chapters).
    • Almost any Christian schoolchild will tell you the Fruit in the Garden of Eden was an apple. The Bible, in any language, does not specify what it was. Jewish tradition claims it to be a fig, wheat, or grapes, and Islam sometimes holds that it was a pomegranate. The apple connection came from the Latin words for apple (malum) and evil (mālum), though some say it's because apples are usually the first solid food children eat in the Western world.
    • Many a Christian will tell you that Jesus said "give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." Actually that phrase does not appear at all in the bible. It in fact originates from a book written in the late 19th century.
  • A bit of "Common Knowledge" popularised by Dan Brown is that the Council of Nicea sought to suppress parts of the Bible because they contained truths about Jesus that could shake and even destroy the very foundations of the church. In fact, the Council of Nicea had nothing to do with the formation of the Bible (it was a forum to decide on how divine Christ actually was). The four gospels to be included in the Bible had in fact been decided a century before the Council of Nicea and the Apocryphal gospels that survive, far from containing any earth shattering revelations about Jesus, actually just consist of rather abstruse and obscure mystical writing. In fact, there was no officially established canon at all (the canon being mainly conventional through long-term use) until the Council of Trent, 1200 years after Nicea, and that was to keep certain books in the Bible against some of the Protestant reformers who wanted to remove them. The Council of Nicea also did not establish the doctrine of the Trinity, that was the Council of Constantinople. Nicea only defined that Christ and God the Father were consubstantial, Constantinople added the Holy Spirit to the mix.
  • It's commonly believed — in the English-speaking world, at least — that Purgatory is a realm "between" heaven and hell where you go when you're not good enough for heaven or bad enough for hell. The vast majority of Christianity holds that anyone who sincerely repents of their sins is bound for heaven, those that believe in Purgatory simply believe that this is a temporary pass-through to heaven where you perform penance that you didn't get to do in your lifetime. Whether or not penance is even necessary indeed varies from denomination to denomination, which obviously affects the belief in the need for and the existence of Purgatory.
  • Nun and sister are often used interchangeably. While it is usually appropriate to call a nun "Sister" as a title (or Mother), a nun and a sister are actually two different things. It's more of a technical distinction than anything else, but a nun is usually attached to a monastery or cloister while sisters are usually deployed out in the world. Nuns also take "solemn" vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, while a sister takes "simple" vows, the difference between the two being roughly the difference between swearing an oath by God and making an earnest promise.
  • Islam:
    • While the Quran does tell that Muslims will be rewarded with beautiful virgins (houris) in the paradise, the number of 72 is not specified. Also, the Quran makes it quite clear that women have souls and will go to paradise too. Therefore there are male houris as well.
    • Many of the beliefs and practices commonly ascribed to "Muslims" by non-Muslims are a matter of sect and denomination, along with local tradition and apocryphal writings not found in the Quran itself. Honor killings and female genital mutilation, for instance, are not specifically Islamic. They predate it and are also practiced by people from other faiths in some parts of the world.
    • Muhammad is often described as a shepherd, usually to portray his ascent to power as a Rags to Riches story. He did work as a shepherd when he was a kid, yes, but, for most of his life, he was a merchant. While never really swimming in money, his family was comparatively comfortable, and he married into an important family while young.
    • Due mainly to the Salman Rushdie affair, fatwa is misinterpreted as a death sentence issued against someone by an Islamic cleric. That's not remotely accurate. A fatwa is a non-binding, but authoritative, opinion issued by an Islamic scholar on a certain matter, basically the equivalent of saying "In my opinion as an expert...". Accordingly, saying a cleric "issued a fatwa against someone" is completely meaningless without context.
  • The Satan we all know and, uh... know is frequently portrayed with aspects of Pan (horns, hooves, goatee) and Poseidon's trident. It's "Common Knowledge" that this was propaganda by the early Christian church to discredit Pagan cults by associating them with the Devil. But the truth is that Satan's portrayal varied wildly during the early middle ages, and these aspects didn't show up until around the 13th Century, when Roman paganism was essentially dead as an actual faith. After a renewed interest in Pagan art arose, the syncretism between Satan and the old gods was cemented, based not on a desire to mock or disrespect them, but on Rule of Cool. It was just as common to use Pagan divinities as sources to depict holy things, hence the Grandpa God images based on Jupiter's idols (which are also not meant to be accurate).

Alternative Title(s): Mythology And Religion


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