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Avestan haecat.aspa-, Rigveda 4.43, and the myth of the divine twins.

To the memory of my teacher Leonard Herzenberg (1934-2012)

Avestan Haecat.aspa-, known from later Zoroastrian tradition as the name of an ancestor of Zara[theta]ustra, (1) is twice attested in the Gathas. In Y. 46 the singer addresses several characters of the Gathic world by name, beginning with Zara[theta]ustra himself and continuing in stanza 15 with haecat.aspa spitamanho (voc. pl.), apparently a branch of Zara[theta]ustra's own clan. Bartholomae interpreted the form as a genitival formation 'descendants of H.', derived from the name of that individual through accent shift. (2) but it seems likelier that haecat.aspa here is simply the plural of the ancestor's name used to designate the entire family. (3) In addition, in Y. 53.3 we learn that Zara[theta]ustra's daughter Pourucista had a propatronymic haecat.aspana. (4) On the basis of this evidence a personal name *haicat-acua- can be safely posited. (5)

The first member of this compound is clearly derived from the root of Avestan hinca-, Vedic sinca 'pour out'. (6) This verb is used with different kinds of liquids and substances, including semen and urine; accordingly, Haecat.aspa- has been translated as 'having studhorses' (Justi (7)) or as 'having horses that urinate' (Humbach, followed by Mayrhofer). (8) Both of these translations fail to convince. Humbach's reference to Yt. 5.120 for a myth about the urine of the heavenly steeds does not support his argument, because the critical form misti which he, following Geldner, (9) translated as 'with urine' is extremely unclear: the context and etymology allow a plethora of other possibilities, including 'with seed', 'by care', 'always', or 'together'. (10) The alleged Vedic parallel cited by Humbach also fails, if RV 10.96.1 ghrtam na yo haribhis caru secate means "[soma] which flows like lovely butter in golden [drops]," (11) and not "[soma], like lovely butter, which is gushed out by the golden [steeds]." (12)

In my opinion, the translation of Haecat.aspa- to be preferred is 'having horses that splash'. (13) Importantly, the first member of the compound is synchronically associated with the middle stem: (14) even though *[haeca-.sup.te] is not attested in Avestan, its absence is likely to be fortuitous, since such a stem is the expected cognate of Vedic [seca-.sup.te]. (15) The translation of the compound should therefore be 'having horses that besprinkle/bathe themselves' (bahuvrihi) and not 'sprinkling/bathing the horses'. (16)

But what is such a name actually supposed to mean? It looks like a reference to a mythological narrative of some sort. The first step towards a solution was made by Kellens, who noted in passing that both members of *haicat-acua- corresponded exactly to the Vedic phrase sincad asvan (RV 4.43.6). (17) Kellens did not attempt to build on this important observation, and this Vedic parallel has been overlooked by nearly all later scholarship. (18) It behooves us therefore to examine the context in which sincad avail, is attested.

RV 4.43 is a hymn to the Asvins. In it we learn first that Surya had chosen the chariot of the divine twins (2cd: ratham ... yam sur yasya duhitavrnita), that this chariot comes from the sea (5ab: rathah ... a yat samudrad abhi variate vam), and finally (in stanza 6) that the Asvins obtained Surya on a trip during which their horses were bathed in the water:
sindhur ha vam rasdya sincad asvan
ghrna vdyo arusasah pari gman
tad u su vam ajiram ceti yanam
yena pati bhavathah suriyayah
Sindhu sprinkled your horses together with Rasa; (19)
the red birds (viz. horses--A. N.) have escaped the heat. (20)
This rapid vehicle of yours has just appeared splendid,
through which you become the masters of Surya.

There is no consensus among the commentators regarding this passage. Bergaigne thought that divan here is a metaphor for streams poured forth by both Sindhu and Rasa. (21) Pirart saw here a "mythe autrement inconnu" of Sindhu consecrating the horses for the Asvins. (22) Others have assumed that sincad asvan refers to a moistening that protected the horses from overheating during a race: as a result the Asvins won and obtained Surya. (23) But nothing else in the hymn suggests a chariot race, nor are there any hints of such a competition in two other Rigvedic stanzas where the Asvins' horses are said to suffer from heat in the presence of Surya. (24) Moreover, whenever in the Rigveda Surya ascends the Asvins' chariot, she does so of her own will (avrnita): Surya's marriage was a svayamvara, as Jamison has shown, (25) and so any interpretation according to which the bride Surya was the prize in a race is effectively precluded.

Now the presence of stndhu- in pada 6a is potentially significant, and the word is a promising starting point for the exegesis of the entire passage, because sindhu- is not just any river, but rather the frontier of the inhabited world (26) or a mythical stream in heaven. (27) What the Vedic text is telling us therefore is that the Asvins went to the ends of the earth or to heaven, where their horses got wet in the waters of some mythical stream, (28) and as the result of this adventure Surya. willingly got into the Asvins' chariot. Is there any evidence for a myth in which the Agvins took such a trip? Yes, but it has to be reconstructed from scattered parts. (29)

Firstly, we know that the Asvins, one of whose epithets is sindhumdtard 'having sindhuas their mother' (RV 1.46.2), are strongly associated with water. The evidence is ubiquitous: they are said to be in company with rivers, (30) their chariot comes out of the sea (3l) or is parked right at a ford, (32) they often ride it at sea, etc.

Secondly, the Asvins are known for their ability to save others, especially from drowning: in fact, their "middle name" Nasatya (Avestan Na[eta]hai[theta]) is derived from the root *nes 'to save'. (33) The most frequently occurring story is the one about Tugra's son Bhujyu, who was drowning in a shipwreck, when the Asvins came to the rescue (18x in the RV). (34) The theme of rescue at sea must predate the Rigveda simply because the immense ocean (samudra) in which Bhujyu was fighting for his life is unlikely to have been inspired by any of the river basins with which the Rigvedic Aryans were familiar (e.g., the Punjab).35 And indeed, this narrative finds a close parallel in Yt. 5.61-63 (the story of Pauruua) and can therefore be projected to the Common Indo-Iranian period. (36)

Thirdly, Surya is one of the three female deities to whom the Asvins are linked in the Vedic myth (along with Ups and Saranyu). Their tangled relationship is characterized by polyandry and incest: the divo napata 'scions of the sky' act as suitors and joint husbands of the Sun maiden, 'daughter of the sky' divo duhitd (RV 1.92.5+). (37)

All of the above is also true of the Greek Dioscuri, whose unmistakable affinity with the Vedic Asvins has long been noted and has become firmly entrenched in handbooks of comparative mythology. (38) The Dioscuri often act as rescuers from danger, hence their most frequent epiclesis [sigma][omega][tau][~.[eta]][rho][epsilon][zeta] 'saviors'. (39) They were protectors of sailors, invoked before a sea trip or during the storm. (40) Finally, the Dioscuri are closely associated with a female figure, their sister Helen: the key theme of this relationship is the saving of Helen, whether from Athens or from Egypt. (41) (The legend of Helen may have more than one point of contact with the Vedic tradition). (42) Other accounts about miraculous twins in Greek mythology are likewise focused on the theme of rescuing a female relative and restoring her to her rightful place. (43)

The tertium comparationis for the Asvins and the Greek Dioscuri has long been sought in the "sons of the sky" in Baltic mythology, Lithuanian Dievo suneliai and Latvian Dieva who exhibit all the characteristics intrinsic to the Divine Twins in the other traditions, (44) The Latvian dainas, despite being merely short folk songs nearly devoid of plot, actually help us to tie up the loose ends and reconstruct the relevant exploits of the Nasatyas. In several dainas the "sons of the sky" are called the suitors (precinieki (45)) of the daughter of the sun. which immediately calls to mind the Agvins wooing Surya; even more importantly, one can easily glimpse a narrative about the sons of the sky coming to the rescue of the daughter of the sun, who was drowning. For instance: Saules meita juru brida,/Ne matinus neredzeja;/Divea deli gan redzeja,/Kur met jara burbuligus "Daughter of the sun went to walk in the sea, (and now) not even a hair to be seen, the sons of the sky only saw where the sea bubbled (over her)" (LTD 11.33965); Saules meita juru brida,/Vainadzinu vien redzeja./Iriet laivu, Dieva deli,/Glabiet Saules dveseliti "Daughter of the sun was wading in the sea, (and now) only her crown was visible, row your boat, sons of the sky, rescue the soul of the sun" (LTD 11.33969).

It is thus only in Latvian folk songs that we find all three themes, each of which is amply, but separately. attested in the Rigveda in connection to the Agvins: the sea, the rescue, and the Sun Maiden. In view of the comparative evidence marshalled above, it seems quite plausible that the inherited mythological narrative, reconstructible on the basis of at least three traditions, featured the Divine Twins rescuing the drowning Sun Maiden from the sea. (46) The union of the Asvins and Surya, in RV 4.43 and elsewhere in the Rigveda, can therefore be viewed as a result of her successful deliverance from the waters of the sindhu-. (47)

Let us sum up what we have learned thus far. One of the episodes in the career of the Indo-European Divine Twins involved rescuing a person from drowning somewhere at the ends of the earth and taking her home across a large mass of water. We know from Latvian dainas that the drowning person in this myth was the twins' consort or sister, who also had distinctive solar properties. Now the role of the Sun Maiden in the story is confirmed through a new interpretation of RV 4.43: this hymn features Sarya, rescued by the Agvins, and the horses of the Nasatyas who get wet in the waters of the ocean during the most important rescue operation of the Divine Twins. This is the myth that the Indo-Iranian phrase refers to.

I have tried to demonstrate a relationship between the phraseology and the myth, but it does not follow from the results of this inquiry that a personal name like Haecat.aspa- was necessarily a "speaking name" at the time when the Gathas were composed. Rather, I have shown what may have meant when it was first coined, but the name may have lost any connection to the myth it encapsulated on the way from Indo-Iranian to the lineage of, real or fictional, where it was inserted into a series of names in -aspa. (48)

It is a pleasure to thank Timothy Barnes, Jay Jasanoff, Alexis Manaster Ramer, Jeremy Rau, Martin Schwartz, and Martin West, as well as Stephanie Jamison and two anonymous JAOS referees for their careful reading of an earlier version of this note and for their remarks. It goes without saying that they may or may not agree with my conclusions and no one of them is to be blamed for what I have done in response to or despite their advice.


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(1.) Haecatasp (Pazand) was Zara[theta]ustra's great-great-grandfather according to the Iranian Bundahisn 35.52 (ed. Pakzad = IndBund 32.1) and Denkard 7.2.70 (ed. Mold). On Zara[theta]ustra's genealogy see Cereti 2002.

(2.) Bartholomae 1904: col. 1728.

(3.) Rau 2007: 60 n. 27.

(4.) On the patronymic suffix -ana- see Rau 2007: 60-65.

(5.) The accent is reconstructed based on the accentuation of Vedic compounds of the bharad-vaja-type.

(6.) Schwartz (2006: 55, 61) has shown that Pourucista's patronymic is compositionally connected with instr. sg. hica, in Y 32.14b (see also Schwartz 2009: 431). To my knowledge, the only scholar who did not derive *hajcatacua- from *saik 'pour out' was Bailey (1958a: 530): he posited an Indo-Iranian root *saik 'satiate' (hence, 'feeding the horses'), but the evidence for this root is suspect.

(7.) Justi 1895: 124: 'Springhengste besitzend'.

(8.) Humbach 1973: 96: 'mit sich ergiessenden Rossen'. This interpretation was accepted by Mayrhofer (1979: 48-49) and Remmer (2006; 210 n. 210).

(9.) Geldner 1881: 399; 1904: 1095. Geldner, apparently, assumed that misti- was remade from *mizdi- (Avestan maez, Sanskrit mill). According to de Vaan (2003: 238), Oettinger in his 1983 monographic study of Yt. 5 likewise translated misti as 'mit Harnen'.

(10.) The text of YL 5.120 is yerjhe cav[beta]aro arsana/ham tasat ahuro mazda/vatemca varemca maeyemca fiianhumca/misti (v. 1 musti) zi me him/spitama zaravustra/varentaeca snaezintaeca/srascintaeca/fiianhuntaeca/yenhe auuauuat haenanam/nauua satais hazanremca "for whom Mazda fashioned together four males: the wind, the rain, the fog, and the hail. For by misti, O Spitama Zara[theta]ustra, they rain, snow, drip, and hail on her for me, who has as many armies as nine hundred and a thousand."

The translation 'seed' is based on a comparison with Khotanese massa- 'field'. Lithuanian mieziai 'barley' (Bailey 1958b: 38). However, 'care' has been proposed as well, this time on the basis of Old Avestan minas mizen (Kellens 1984: 166). Next, the problematic misti could be the same word as misti (Yt. 7.2; Ny 3.6) 'together', Tun avec l'autre', viz. 'in mixture' (Kellens 1974: 302). Lastly, Bartholomae also analyzed mail as derived from the root of Sanskrit meksay- 'mix' (1904: col. 1187; 1906: 207-8), but attributed to it the rather different meaning 'always' on the basis of the Armenian borrowing mat.

(11.) Goto 1987: 327.

(12.) Geldner 1951: 3. 304: "Oder ist gemeint da[beta] die Falben den Soma als Harn herabgie[bera]en?"

(13.) Cf. Bartholomae's 'Rosse mit Wasser besprengend, badend' (1904: col. 1728).

(14.) For a first member in -at made from a stem with intransitive meaning, compare Vedic svanad-ratha-, Avestan xvanat.caxra- 'having rattling chariot/wheels'.

(15.) The stem seca- is only attested in the Rigveda once (RV 10.96.1, cited above in the main text), but nevertheless seems quite secure: the pair seca- (intrans.): sinca- (trans.) corresponds to a pattern that is well established in the language; moreover, the full grade *seikv e/o- is also reflected in Germanic *seih a- 'sieve' (trans.), see Joachim 1978: 166-67.

(16.) This was seen by Kellens, who had originally followed Bartholomae (above n. 13), translating Haecat. aspa- as 'celui qui asperge les chevaux' (Kellens--Pirart 1988: 8), but later changed this to 'celui dont les chevaux s'eclaboussent' (Kellens 1991: 68; 1995: 72).

(17.) Kellens 1977: 663 n. 5; the Vedic-Avestan correspondence is mentioned in Kellens--Pirart 1988: 8.

(18.) It is missing from Mayrhofer's standard handbook of Iranian onomastics (1979: 49) and his Sanskrit etymological dictionary.

(19.) Or 'with moisture/water', see below n. 28.

(20.) The second pada has a few problems which, while not insurmountable, are significant enough to be signaled here. First, the Padapatha has instr. sg. Ghrna, for which acc. pl. ghrna(b) is usually accepted (Oldenberg 1909: 303). Secondly, the meaning 'to avoid' is not attested for pari-gam and is posited solely on the strength of the usage of pari-ga (e.g., RV 2.33.14b pari tvesasya durmatir mad gat "may the great hatred of the boisterous one pass (us) by," cited by Luders 1951: 139). While Geldner apparently considered both difficulties negligible and translated "Sindhu mit der Rasa benetzte eure Pferde; die rotlichen Vogelrosse entgingen den Gluten." Renou with some hesitation offered an alternative translation: "ils ont fait le tour (du ciel) sous la chaleur-torride" (1967: 35).

(21.) Bergaigne 1878: 258.

(22.) Pirart 2001: 146.

(23.) Geldner 1951: 1, 476. Elsewhere Geldner adduces several parallels for the idea of wetting down a horse after a race (1951: 1, 31-2), but at RV 1.30.1 the meaning of krivi- remains uncertain, while Geldner's other examples have the verb uk.y, not sic. According to yet another proposal the horses were moistened not in or after a race, but for some other purpose, for instance, in grooming (Schwartz 2006: 56), but this idea is difficult to prove or disprove, since the necessary textual support is lacking.

(24.) RV 5.73.5; 7.69.4. The race for the Sun Maiden is known only from the Brahmanas (JB 1.213; AB 43--Il: KB 18.1-5), but see Oertel (1909: 174), who compellingly argued that the legend about a chariot race of the gods was only secondarily connected with the originally separate story of the wedding.

(25.) Jamison 2001.

(26.) Thieme 1970.

(27.) Luders 1951: 138-51.

(28.) As for rasa-, this word elsewhere denotes a remote mythical strewn (just like its Avestan cognate ranha-): for instance, it is in the Rasa that the island with the Vala cave and primordial cows is located. Still, the etymological meaning of the word is 'dew' (cognates include Latin ros, OCS rosa, Lithuanian rasa 'dew'), and in principle nothing seems to stand in the way of the translation 'water, liquid, moisture' for our passage: this was Sayana's understanding. followed by the St. Petersburg dictionary. Lommel (1926: 194). and Garcia Ramon (2008: 162 n. 23). (Cf. Luders' heated objection: "Ein Femininum rasa' mit der Bedeutung 'Feuchtigkeit' [ ...] ist ganzlich unwahrscheinlich" [1951: 139 n. 1].

(29.) The following review of the relevant facts is admittedly cursory; the excuse for this is that these facts will be quite familiar to most readers. For the Asvins see Zeller 1990, Obellies 1992, 1993, GotO 2006.

(30.) RV 5.74.2 ko vam nadinam saca "Which of you two is in company with rivers?"

(31.) RV 4.43.5. vam ... I a yat samudrad abhi vartate vam "your chariot ... when it rolls here to you from the sea."

(32.) RV 1.46.8 tirthe sindhunam rathah "[your] chariot is at the ford of the rivers."

(33.) Gothic nasjands [??] Vedic nasate, and Greek [??] 'return home safely' (see Guntert 1923: 259; Frame 1978: 134-52; GotO 2006: 262-63).

(34.) See recently Ronzitti 2010.

(35.) Michalski 1961: 12.

(36.) Oettinger 1988; GotO 2000: 152 n. 18.

(37.) E.g., RV 1.116.17: a vam ratham duhita suriyasya/karsmevatisthad arvata jayanti // visve deva any amanyanta hrdbhih/sam u sriya nasatiya sacethe "the Daughter of the Sun stepped on your chariot, as if she were winning a race on a steed. All the deities assented with their hearts, and you. Nasatyas, united yourselves with the beauty" (sri = Surya). In RV 10.85 (the Surya-Sukta) the Asvins appear as suitors wooing Surya both for themselves and for Soma.

(38.) Ward 1968: 9-29; Puhvel 1987: 284-90: Euler 1987: 46-51; Nagy 1990: 92-93, 112-13; West 2007: 18691; Frame 2009: 59-102. The equation is supported by many phraseological correspondences: Vedic divo napata 'scions of the sky' (RV 1.117.12+) matches Ionic Atookovpot; Vedic (asvina) suvasva '(the Asvins) having good horses' (RV 7.68.1) matches [??] ([??]) (Pi. 0. 3.39); the Vedic epithet arepasa 'flawless (Asvins)' (RV 5.73.4) matches [??] ([??]) (H. Ham. 33.3); Vedic puruscandra 'greatly shining' (RV 8.5.32) matches [??] if from *[??] (Durante 1976: 164 n. 7; but see Cassola 1984; Bader 1986). etc.

(39.) Cf. "0 most handsome saviors, of Zeus and Leda (born)," PMG 1027c adesp. = Terp. fr. 9 Gostoli.

(40.) See Jaisle 1907: 6-23; Xypnitos 1982-83.

(41.) See West 1975.

(42.) RV 10.17.1-2 names Sarartyu as the mother of the Asvins and tells that when she disappeared from her own wedding, the gods substituted a phantom, savarba, lit, 'having the same appearance'. It has long been noticed (see, e.g., Pisani 1928) that this legend is reminiscent of the of Helen which, according to one of the traditions, Paris took with him to Troy instead of the Dioscuri's sister (Hdt. 2.112-20; Eur. Helen; Stesich. Palinodia [192 PMGF]).

The identification of and Saranyu may extend beyond the savarna/motif: in the paper just cited Pisani argued that both proper names were related to each other etymologically. The well-known and much debated obstacle to this idea is the digamma attested in Helen's name (e.g., in Laconian SEG 26.457, 7th cent.; see West 2007: 231 n. 115 for full documentation). Other etymologies of, separating it from Saranyu, have been proposed, the most noteworthy of which is the derivation from the root 'to choose' proposed by Jamison (2001: 314, accepted by Janda 2005: 346-48; 2010: 248-49; for other suggestions see Clader 1976: 80 [to 'sprig'] and Bockisch 2006: 34-35 [to 'swamp']). Nonetheless, Pisani's comparison of to Sarapyu remains viable. Those scholars who have accepted it thus far have either tried to find an explanation for the problematic Anlaut that would be internal to Greek (Laneres 2007) or have operated with two different epithets. *[sueleneh.sub.2]- and *[seleneh.sub.2]- > (Skutsch 1987; Jackson 2006: 84-92), but a simpler solution may lie at the Indic end: an original *suaraniu- (~ *suaran- >) could be changed into *saraniu- under the influence of the root *sar 'to run, to flow'. An adj. saranyu- is attested in the RV with the meaning 'quick', applied to horses, and at RV 3.32.5 we clearly have a word-play with sar: saranyubhir apo arna sisarsi "you stir floods and waters (together) with the fleet ones." According to Yaska Nir. 12.10 (on RV 10.17.2), when Saranyu was trying to escape from Vivasvant. she turned into a mare and then gave birth to the Asvins (on the legend see Bloomfield 1893: 172-88; Lommel 1945-49: 243-52); if this tradition is genuinely old, and not a late invention prompted by the transparent name of the Asvins, it would be entirely understandable that the name *Svaranyu was changed to Saranyu in order to reflect the hippomorphic aspect of her personality. If this is correct, '/ *Svaranyu would be a sun figure, whose name goes back to the root *suel 'to burn' (Greek 'sun's heat', Old English swelan 'to burn'. Iranian *suar 'glow, burn' in Mid. Persian < hwlg > 'amber', Kurdish xoli 'ashes'), as already suggested by Mannhardt (1875: 310) and Brandenstein (1954: 137).

(43.) For instance, the twins Euneus and Thoas rescued their mother Hypsipyle from captivity in Nemea (the legend is recounted in Didymus' hypothesis to Pindar's Nemeans and in Stat. Theb. 4-6; Euripides treated the myth in his Hypsipyle); another pair of twins, Cleobis and Biton, transported their mother ('famous for horses') to the sanctuary of Hera (Hdt. 1.30-32). On the relationship between Cleobis and Biton and the Dioscuri see Eitrem 1905 and Grottanelli 1986.

(44.) The pioneering study by Mannhardt 1875 still remains a valuable collection of the data. Latvian dainas are now conveniently available in the LTD. A recent study of these texts from a comparative perspective is Kalens 1995.

(45.) For instance: Saules meita jostas auda,/Menesnica sededama;/Dieva deli precinieki,/Abolaini kumelini "Sun's daughter was weaving a band, while the moon was sitting; sons of heaven--suitors, dappled studs" (LTD 11.33962).

(46.) As for the further interpretation of this myth, ever since A. Weber Indologists have viewed the story of Surya/Usas (and Bhujyu) rescued by the Asvins as an allegory of the sun, going into the ocean in the west and brought back by the morning star and the evening star (Weber 1862: 234; Myriantheus 1876: 161-69; von Schroeder 1895: 131-32; 1916: 442-43; Macdonell 1897: 51; Oldenberg 1917: 207-15; Guntert 1923: 253-77). Crusades against "solar mythology" rendered this interpretation unpopular for some time, but first G. Nagy and D. Frame in the 1970s, and then more recently J. Haudry, T. Goto, and A. Manaster Ramer have all argued that in the case of the Divine Wins and the Sun Maiden the arguments in favor of a solar interpretation are overwhelmingly strong (Nagy 1973: 172-73; Haudry 1998; Goth 2006: 263-66; Manaster Ramer ms.).

(47.) Under the allegorical interpretation presented in the previous footnote, sindhu- in RV 4.43.6 denotes a mass of water into which the sun is thought to go at sunset and which is therefore thought of as situated on the earth. As Luders (n. 27) and others have repeatedly emphasized, sindhu- may also denote a heavenly river (e.g., RV 1.164.25 sindhum dirt), but there is no reason to think that the word has this meaning in our passage: the Asvins perform their rescuing feats in various locations, some of them quite bizarre (for instance, Bhujyu is drowning anarambhane tamasi "in the anchorless darkness." RV 1.116.5; 182.6), but never in heaven.

(48.) Pazand Porusaspo, Paitirasp, Urvandusp, Paerirasp. On Indo-Iranian personal names in -aspa-/-asva- see recently Sadovski 2009.


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Author:Nikolaev, Alexander
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2012
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