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Beowulf Glossary

Below you will find an Index of Proper Names as they are found in the original Old English poem "Beowulf." Additional information is derived from numerous Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and Frankish sagas and chronologies (see the Bibliography for complete references). Each entry includes a short description of their roles and relationships, as far as these are known from the primary text. Line numbers are given in brackets at the end of each entry for reference. All dates provided are hypothetic reconstructions (see Chronologies).

* * *

  • Proper Names
  • Tribal Clans

Ælfhere - Kinsman of Wiglaf. [2604]

Æschere - Danish warrior, elder brother of Yrmenlaf. Hrothgar's counselor and favored battle companion, he was slain by the Troll-Hag in revenge for Grendel’s death. [1323]

Aní - Swedish King (d.499), son of Jorundr and father of Ongentheow.

Beanstan - Of the Bronding clan, father of Breca. [524]

Beow - Danish King (443-475), son of Scyld and father of Healfdene. Given as Beowulf  in the poem, possibly due to a scribal error.[18]

Beowulf [bay-o-wolf] - Hero and King of the Geats (533-545), son of Edgtheow, grandson of Hrethel on his mother’s side, nephew of Hygelac and cousin to Heardred. His name means “Bear-Wolf” or “Bee-Wolf” (i.e. a bear, a lover of honey).

Breca - Bronding youth, son of Beanstan and rival in Beowulf's swimming contest. He later becomes chieftain of his clan, and is mentioned in Widsith (l.25). [531]

Clovis (466-511) - King and founder of the Merovingian Franks (from 481), father of Theodoric. He conquered and unified the Hugas and Hetware clans of Frisian Gaul (c.500), but upon his death the Frankish Kingdom was divided among his four sons.

Dæghrefn - Commander of Theodebert's troops, champion and standard-bearer of the Hugas tribe. He slew Hygelac during the Frisian raid, but was slain in turn by Beowulf. His name means “Day-Raven”. [2501]

Eadgils - Swedish King (535-575), younger son of Ohthere and brother of Eanmund. He was exiled by his uncle Onela [2379ff.], sought refuge at Heardred's court [2202ff., 2384ff.], and became King when he attacked and slew Onela with Beowulf’s aid [2391ff.]. Historically, he probably lived c.510-575.

Eanmund - Swedish Prince, eldest son of Ohthere and brother of Eadgils. With Eadgils he was exiled by his uncle Onela [see above], given refuge by Heardred, but he was slain by Weohstan during Onela's invasion of Geatland [2611ff.]. Weohstan takes his sword and gives it to Wiglaf.

Ecglaf - Danish father of Unferth. [499]

Ecgtheow - Father of Beowulf. A warrior of the Wægmunding clan, he was given the hand of Hrethel's only daughter, but he slew Heatholaf of the Wylfings and was exiled. He traveled to Denmark and was taken in by Hrothgar, who paid the wergild to settle his feud. His name means “Sword-Servant”. [263]

Edgwela - Danish King of the distant past, before the coming of Scyld, father of the sons slain by Heremod. [1710]

Elan - Wife of Ongentheow and Queen of the Swedes. She was captured and ransomed at the Battle of Ravenswood, but was rescued by her husband. Her name is derived from the seemingly corrupt passage at line 62, but is not provided otherwise. [2930]

Eofor - Warrior of the Geats under Hæthcyn and Hygelac, son of Wonred, younger brother of Wulf. He was given Hygelac’s eldest daughter as a bride-prize [2993ff.] for the slaying of Ongentheow. [2486, 2977]

Eomer - Son of Offa the Angle, grandson of Garmund, and kinsman to Hemming. [1960]

Eormanric - Tyrant-King (d.c.375) and ancestor of the Heathobard Ostrogoths, father of Randover and husband of the young Swanhild, who together had an illicit affair for which Eormanric slew them both. Hama stole the Brosing Necklace from him. He is found in the Old English poems Deor and Widsith. [1201]

Faolin - Son of Finn and Hildeburh named in the Fight at Finnsburg, a fragmentary poem, part of which exists in Beowulf. He was slain in that battle by his own father while fighting on the side of his mother. His name means “little wolf.”

Finn - King of the Frisians in the Finnsburg fragment. Ruler of the Jutes, son of Folcwalda, father of Faolan, and spouse of Hildeburh of the Half-Danes. He treacherously attacked and slew Hnæf, Hildeburh's brother, and was slain in turn by Hengest. Finn means “finder.” [1068]

Fitela - Son and nephew of Sigemund by Signy, his father's sister. He is called Sinfjötli in the Norse Lays, and not to be confused with the Siegfried who is Siegmund's son in the Nibelungenlied and Wagner's operas. [879]

Folcwalda - King of the Frisians and father of Finn. [1089]

Freawaru - Danish princess, daughter of Hrothgar and Wealtheow, given to Ingeld as a bride-price in a seemingly unsuccessful attempt to settle the Danish-Heathobard feud. [2022]

Froda - King of the Heathobard tribe of Ostro-Goths (c.495-499) and father of Ingeld. He slew Healfdene, beginning the Danish-Heathobard feud, and was in turn slain by Healfdene's sons. The Froda-Ingeld story is also related in Saxo’s Historia Danica, and is mentioned in Widsith.

Garmund - Father of Offa the Angle. His name means “spear-man” or “spear-protector.” [1962]

Grendel - Ogre of the Dane-Mark, offspring of the Troll-Hag. He ravaged Heorot for twelve years, until finally slain by Beowulf. He dwelt with his mother in the murky depths of a moorland mere above Heorot. His name derives from Old Norse words meaning both "storm" and "grinder". [102ff.]

Guthlaf - Eldest of the three Eotan brothers who fought at Finnsburg under Hengest. Hunlaf had been killed in the attack on Hnæf, and Guthlaf and Oslaf spurred Hengest to take revenge on Finn.

Hæreth - Father of Hygd and Hereric. He was a prosperous man of high standing among the Geats. His name means "prudent" or "thoughtful". [1929]

Hæthcyn - King of the Geats (503-510), 2nd son of Hrethel. He accidentally slew his older brother Herebeald in an archery contest [2434], causing his father Hrethel to die of grief. He succeeded to the throne [2474], but was slain by Ongentheow at the Battle of Ravenswood in the Swede-Geat War of 510 [2482].

Halga - Youngest son of Healfdene, brother to Heorogar, Hrothgar, and Yrse, and father of Hrothulf. Apparently a man of high morals, he was commonly called Halga the Good. He fought in the service of Hæthcyn at Sorrow Hill in the Swede-Geat War of 503, where he was slain by Hothbrod the Swede. [61]

Hama - Ancient Danish hero who escaped from the Goth Tyrant-King Eormanric with the Brosing Necklace. He is also mentioned in Widsith. [1198]

Healfdene - King of the Danes, son of Beow, and father of Heorogar, Hrothgar, Halga, and Yrse. Presumably he was given the name "Half-Dane" due to mixed descent. [57]

Heardred - King of the Geats (521-533), son of Hygelac and Hygd, nephew of Hereric, and cousin to Beowulf. He assumed the throne at age 10 under the regency of Beowulf [2369ff.], and reigned for 12 years. He gave refuge to the Swedish exiles Eanmund and Eadgils, for which he was slain by Onela in the Swede-Geat War of 533 [2202; 2388]. His death was avenged by Beowulf and Eadgils [2391ff.].

Heatholaf - Wylfing warrior slain by Ecgtheow. His death caused a feud which resulted in Ecgtheow's exile from his homeland. He was of the same tribe as Wealtheow, whose husband Hrothgar settled the feud by paying Heatholaf's wergild. His name means “Battle-Legacy”. [460]

Helm - Father of Wealtheow and King of the Helming clan of Wylfing Celts. [620]

Hemming - Kinsman of Offa and Eomer. [1944]

Hengest - Hnæf's Heir, Marshall of the Half-Dane Jutes in the fight at Finnsburg. When Hnæf was slain at Finnsburg he assumed command [1083] and made a truce with the Frisians, but being reminded of his duty to avenge his kinsman’s death, he broke the tryst, slew Finn, and escaped with Hildeburh.

Heorogar - Former King of the Danes, eldest son of Healfdene, brother of Hrothgar and Halga, father of Heoroweard. His was a short reign of less than two years, and the circumstances of his death said to be "mysterious". In fact, both he and his son were slain by Unferth at Hrothgar’s instigation.

Heoroweard - King of Danes (545), only son of Heorogar, nephew to Hrothgar, and cousin to Hrothulf. He was initially passed up for the Kingship for unknown reasons, but ultimately assumed the throne at the late age of 55 when he slew the usurper King Hrothulf, leaving him as the only surviving Dane. He was subsequently slain by Wiggo, the only surviving member of Hrothulf’s band. [2161]

Herebeald - Eldest son of Hrethel. He was accidentally killed by his younger brother Hæthcyn in an archery contest, causing his father to die of grief and precipitating the first Swede-Geat war. His story runs parallel with the Norse myth of Baldr. [2434ff.]

Heremod - Ancient King of the early Danes (d.390) who ruled his people badly afer a promising start. He was exiled for evil acts against his people, leaving the Danish throne empty until the coming of Scyld. He is mentioned in the Old Norse poem Hyndluljóð as having been given a helm and corselet by Odin. His name means ‘Battle-Heart’. [901, 1709]

Hereric - Son of Hæreth, brother of Hygd, and thus uncle to Heardred.

Hildeburh - Wife of Finn, mother of Faolan, daughter of Hoc of the Half-Danes, and sister of Hnæf. She was given as bride-price to Finn, but in the Fight at Finnsburg she lost her husband, son, and brother before escaping with Hengest. [1071]

Hnæf - King of the Jutes, son of Hoc and brother of Hildeburh. He was treacherously slain by his brother-in-law Finn, beginning the Fight at Finnsburg. [1069]

Hoc - King of the Half-Dane Jutes, father of Hildeburh and Hnæf. [1076]

Hondscio - The only named member of Beowulf's band on the journey to Dane-Mark. He was slain by Grendel, first to fall in battle at Heorot. [2076]

Hothbrod - A Swede in the service of Onela at Sorrow Hill who slays Halga the Good.

Hrethel - King of the Geats (c.503), father of Herebeald, Hæthcyn, Hygelac, and an unnamed daughter (Beowulf’s mother). He died of sorrow when his 2nd son Hæthcyn accidentally slew his eldest son Herebeald; due to a conflict of duties he could not avenge the slayer of his son, who was also his son. [374]

Hrethric - King of the Danes (525), eldest son of Hrothgar and Wealtheow, and brother of Hrothmund and Freawaru. He was slain by Hrothulf soon after he assumed the throne. [1189]

Hrothgar - King of the Danes (500-525), 2nd son of Healfdene, brother of Heorogar, Halga, and Yrse, husband of Wealtheow, and father of Hrethric, Hrothmund, and Freawaru. He built Heorot and ruled the Danes during Grendel's twelve year reign of terror. [61]

Hrothmund - Second son of Hrothgar and Wealtheow, younger brother of Hrethric. He disappears from the story early on and is not heard from again. [1189]

Hrothulf - King of the Danes (525-545), son of Halga, nephew of Hrothgar, and cousin to Hrethric, Hrothmund, and Freawaru. He slew Hrethric and usurped the Danish throne, ruling for twenty years, but was ultimately overthrown by Heoroweard, the rightful heir. A figure known widely to Norse legend, he is the titular hero of Hrolf’s Saga Kraka, a later tale bearing much resemblance to Beowulf, but in which Hrothulf assumes the heroic role. [1017]

Hrunting - Unferth's sword. It failed Beowulf in his battle with the Troll-Hag. [1457]

Hunlaf - Brother to Guthlaf and Oslaf of the Half-Danes. He was slain in Hnæf's fight with the Frisians, and his two brothers urged Hengest to turn on Finn in vengeance. [1143]

Hygd - Queen of the Geats [1926], daughter of Hæreth, wife of Hygelac, and mother of Heardred. She receives the necklace from Beowulf [2172]. Upon Hygelac's death she offered the throne to Beowulf [2369], but he refused it in favor of her son, the rightful heir. She is possibly the "Geatish woman" who laments Beowulf’s death at his funeral [3150]. Her name means "Wisdom".

Hygelac (d.c.515-521) - King of the Geats (from c.510), 3rd son of Hrethel, husband to Hygd, father of Heardred, and both feudal lord and uncle to Beowulf. He led the ill-fated raid on Frisia, during which he was slain by Dæghrefn, an event recorded in the Historia Francorum by Gregory of Tours, as well as being mentioned in the Liber Monstrorum. [2201; 2941ff]

Ing - Legendary Danish King.

Ingeld - King of the Heathobardan Ostrogoths (499-520), son of Froda, and husband of Freawaru. His place in history is well documented, to the extent that in the 8th century Bishop Alcuin mentioned him with disdain as a pagan heroic figure receiving too much praise. In the poem, however, he is prophesied to betray Heorot. [2025ff.]

Modthrytho - Queen of the Angles and wife of Offa I. Her notorious cruelty to potential suitors, most of whom were slain, was tempered by her husband in an early "Taming of the Shrew." Also known as Cynethryth or Quendrida. [1931ff]

Nægling [nag-ling] - Ancestral sword of Hrethel, given to Beowulf by Hygelac. Beowulf slew Dæghrefn with it, but the blade shattered during the Dragon Battle.. The name means “Nailer” (i.e. “Impaler”), or the “Foe-Nail.” [2680]

Offa - King of the Angles, son of Garmund, father of Eomer. He wed and tamed the scathing and violently cruel Modthrytho. [1949]

Ohthere - Eldest son of Ongentheow [2928], brother to Onela [2616, 2932], and father of Eanmund and Eadgils [2380, 2394; 2611ff.], later King of the Swedes (510-532). He was buried in a mound at Vendel, north of Upsala, and given the mysterious epithet “Vendel-Crow.” He probably lived from ca.478-532.

Onela - Younger son of Ongentheow [2932], brother to Othere, and husband of Yrse [62]. He usurped the Swedish throne (532-535), exiled his nephews, and killed Heardred for harboring them [2385]. He rewards Weohstan for slaying Eanmund [2932], but was killed in vengeance by Eadgils with Beowulf’s aid [2396]. If he was given a barrow mound it has not been found. Given the chronology of Beowulf, he would likely have lived ca.480-535.

Ongentheow (d.c.510-515) - King of the Swedes and father to Othere and Onela [2928ff.]. He is known to Norse sagas, and his is one of the three burial mounds at Old Upsala. He slew Hæthcyn at the Battle of Ravenswood and rescued his captured wife, but was pursued by Hygelac [2922-3007] and slain by Eofor. [2486ff., 2961ff.].

Randver - Son of Eormanric and Swanhild. He had an incestuous affair with his mother and was slain by his father.

Sceaf - Legendary father of Scyld [4].

Scyld - Son of Sceaf, father of Beow the Dane, grandfather of Healfdene, and founder of the Scylding clan of Danes. He came to Denmark as a child adrift in a reed boat and became a great warrior, making the Danes strong again. [4]

Scylf - Legendary founder of the Scylfing clan of Swedes and father of Jorundr. [2381]

Sigemund - Son of Wæls (Volsung) and father of Fitela (Sinfjötli in Old Norse) by his own sister Signy, slayer of the dragon Fafnir. Only in the Beowulf poem is he given this role, while in the Germanic-Wagnerian Nibelungenlied cycle he is the father of Sigurd, who is father to Fitela by Signy. He is shown as a parallel of the great hero Beowulf becomes. [875, 877]

Swanhild - Ancestral Queen of the Ostro-Goths. The wife of Eormanric and mother of Randover, with whom she had an incestuous affair for which they were both slain.

Swerting - Legendary founder of the Swerting clan of Geats, maternal grandfather (or uncle) of Hygelac via an unnamed daughter. [1203]

Theodebert (500-547) - Son of Theodoric, and grandson of Clovis. He led the defense against Hygelac’s ill-fated raid, a story told by the near-contemporary Gregory of Tours in his Historia Francorum.

Theodoric - Merovingian King of the Austrasian Franks (511-534), eldest son of Clovis, and father of Theodebert.

Unferth - Chief Councilor and spokesman to King Hrothgar. He slew his own kin and either fled or was exiled from his clan, after which he was given pity and refuge by Hrothgar. [499]

Wægmund - Far-father and founder of the Wægmunding clan of Half-Swedes, to which Weohstan, Wiglaf, and Beowulf belong. He was a Wendel, and came to Swede-Land in the service of Scylf, winning great honour and taking a Swedish wife, but remaining autonomous. [2607, 2814]

Wæls - Founder of the Germanic Wælsinga (Volsunga) clan and father of Sigemund. [897]

Wealtheow - Queen of Danes, daughter of Helm, and wife of Hrothgar. She was a Wylfing Celt from the Helming clan. [612]

Weohstan - Father of Wiglaf. A Wægmunding Half-Swede, he took a Scylfing bride and took oath with the Swedish King, slaying Eanmund in the service of Onela. He took Eanmund's sword and gave it to his son, but was forced to flee from Sweden when Eadgils assumed the throne. [2613]

Wiglaf - Son of Weohstan, kin to Beowulf, and King of the Geats (c.545-?). He was the only loyal retainer to stand by Beowulf in his battle with the Dragon. He ruled the Geats after Beowulf's death, but was possibly later slain by Eadgils in vengeance for Eanmund's death, effectively ending the race of Geats. [2602]

Withergyld - Regent of the Heatho-Bards during Ingeld's minority, although he is said in the poem to have died in battle with the Danes (but is possibly only the father of the young Heathobard warrior who is slain). [2044]

Wonred - Geat warrior, father of Wulf and Eofor. [2971]

Wulf - Son of Wonred, brother of Eofor. He is wounded by Ongentheow in battle with the Swedes, and his brother avenged him by slaying the Swede King. [2965]

Wulfgar - Herald and Door-Guard of Heorot under Hrothgar. He was a Wendel from the clan that dwelt at Vendel in Uppland. [348]

Yrmenlaf - Danish nobleman, younger brother of Æschere. [1324]

Yrse - Daughter and youngest child of Healfdene, husband of Onela, and sister to Heorogar, Hrothgar, and Halga. Her name is the Swedish equivalent of Ursula, and is the subject of a highly-debated textual issue in the poem, due to a seemingly corrupt passage [62], which may or may not refer to her. The name itself is not given in the poem, but derives from Hrolf’s Saga Kraka.

Angles - Offa's clan, a West Germanic tribe dwelling at the base of the Eotan penninsula north of the Eider river. They migrated to Britain with their Saxon cousins, with whom they merged to form the mighty Anglo-Saxon race. They gave their name to England.

Brondings - Breca's tribe, a clan of the Heatho-Reams, dwelling in the Vik region between modern Norway and Sweden, centered on Romerike. Mentioned in Widsith (25). [521]

Brosingas - Fire-Dwarves of Nidavellir. They forged a magic necklace for Freya that was stolen by Hama from the Goth King Eormanric and later obtained by Beowulf. Called Brisings in the Elder Edda. [1199]

Danes - Hrothgar's tribe, founded by Scyld Scefing. They originated in southern Swede-Land and thrived under Ecgwela, but foundered with the defection of Heremod and were quickly supplanted there by the Geats. With the coming of Scyld they became powerful once again in Sea-Land, overcoming the Heruli Celts and ultimately expanding through conquest and absorption to encompass the entire Jutland peninsula. Their King dwelt at Leire, five miles south-west of Roskilde, both founded by Hrothgar. [116; 242; 383; 392; 427; 463; 597; 601; 1019; 1044]

Eotans - Hnæf's clan, a tribe of Half-Dane Frisians, commonly called Jutes, dwelling in and giving its name to the Eotan (or Jutland) peninsula. They were a large people whom many thought to be a race of giants, thus giving them their name (O.E. eoten = giant). They migrated to Britain when the Danes conquered their lands and were absorbed by the Anglo-Saxons. [1072]

Finns - Finnish Lapps dwelling in Finn-Mark, north-east of the Baltic Bay. Beowulf swims to Vallgrund, an island off the western coast. [580]

Franks - West German people living near the Rhine and Meuse rivers, ancestors of the modern French. They included the Hugas and Hetware clans, and were allies of the Frisians, whom they ultimately absorbed. Together they defeated the Geatish invasion of 521. [1210]

Frisians - Finn's tribe, allies of the Franks. An cousin clan of the Jutes, they migrated south to the Fresan north shore of Gaul around the Zuyder Sea, between the Ems and Rhine rivers. They eventually came under the domination of the Franks and were absorbed, but fought with the Franks as allies during Hygelac's Raid. [1126; 1157; 1207; 2503]

Geats - Beowulf's tribe, descendants of Swerting, also called Weder-Folk because of their fierceness (O.E. weder = weather, storm). They lived on the southern tip of Sweden in modern Götarike south of the lakes Vænir and Vättir, which separated them from their enemies, the Swedes, who ultimately defeated them late in the 6th century. Their King resided at Göteborg on the mouth of the Göta river that flowed down from Lake Vænir. [374; 491; 498; 640; 1538; 1850; 2960]

Gifthas - An East Germanic clan of Visi-Goths that was a common source of mercenaries. They dwelt near the mouth of the Vistula river, but migrated south to the lower Danube, where they were defeated by the Lombard Franks late in the 6th century. They are also mentioned in Widsith. [2494]

Goths - Eormanric's tribe, a fierce and powerful people dwelling between the Baltic and Black Seas. They divided into two main branches, the Ostro-Goths and Visi-Goths, both of which developed into mighty Empires that were greatly feared, challenging the power of the Roman Empire and hastening its downfall.

Half-Danes - The Eotan followers of Hoc and his son Hnæf, and subsequently of Hengest.

Heathobards - Ingeld's tribe, a clan of seafaring Germanic Ostro-Goths dwelling on the northern coast of Gaul just east of the Elbe river. [2032]

Heathoræmas - Tribe to which Breca's Bronding clan belongs, dwelling north of Oslo in modern Romerike, but spreading throughout the Vingulmark. [519]

Helmings - Wealtheow's clan of Wylfing Celts, founded by her far-ancestor Helm. They dwelt near the mouth of the Oder river. [620]

Heruli - A fierce clan of Gaulic Celts dwelling on the isle of Sea-Land before the coming of the Danes, by whom they were defeated and dispossessed.

Hetware - Germanic clan allied with and later absorbed by the Franks, dwelling independently near the mouth of the Rhine. [2363]

Hugas - Dæghrefn's tribe, a Germanic clan making up the main body of the Franks. [2502]

Jutes - The Eotan Frisians, dwelling in the Jutland penninsula to which they gave their name. The Anglo-Saxon word for Jute was Eote or Yte, and eoten also meant giant or monster.

Merovingians - Clovis' clan of Germanic Franks who rose to dominate and conquer Gaul. The Hugas, Hetware, and Frisians were their tributary allies, and were later absorbed into a single people. Under Clovis they united Gaul and became a powerful people, the ancestors of the modern French. [2921]

Scyldings - Scyld's clan, ancestors and continuators of the Danes. [53; 464; 1108]

Scylfings - Scylf's clan, ancesetors of the Swedes. Wægmund married Scylf's daughter and founded his own clan, but Weohstan married again into the Scylfings, causing his son Wiglaf to have divided loyalties. [63; 2381; 2927]

Swedes - Ongentheow's tribe, founded by Scylf. They dwelt then only in the middle regions of modern Sweden north of the lakes Vænir and Vättir. The Geats were their traditional enemies, and after Beowulf's death they defeated the Geats and conquered the lands south of the two lakes.

Wægmundings - Beowulf's clan of Half-Swede Wendels, founded by Wægmund, who won great renown and married Scylf's daughter. Ecgtheow united them with the Geats via his marriage with Hrethel's daughter, but both clans died out after Beowulf's death. [2607, 2814]

Wælsingas - Germanic clan descended from Wæls, including the trio of Sigemund, Sigurd, and Fitela. The name translates as Volsung and gives its name to the Volsungasaga which, along with the Nibelungenlied, tells of this family.

Weder-Folk - Tribe of the Swerting Geats, also called Weder-Geats. Weder is the Anglo-Saxon word for "weather" and is generally translated as "storm."

Wendels - Wulfgar's clan, ancestors of the Vandals. They originated in the Uppland region of Sweden, but migrated to the continent and dwelt for some time between the Oder and Vistula rivers before heading further south to the Mediterranean. Beowulf's far-ancestor Wægmund was of this tribe before they emigrated to the continent. They gave their name to the village of Vendel, north of Old Upsala, from which Wulfgar came, as well as to Vendyssel in Jutland. [348]

Wylfings - Heatholaf's tribe of Celtic Gauls. They lived near the mouth of the Oder river on the south Baltic coast. Wealtheow's clan of Helmings was of this tribe. They are mentioned in Widsith (l.29), where Helm is said to be their ruler. [471]

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