2023 December Histoire Physique de la Mer

Histoire Physique de la Mer (Amsterdam, 1725)

 

The December 2023 Book of the Month explores Histoire physique de la mer: Ouvrage enrichi de figures dessinées d’après le naturel by the Italian nobleman, general and scientist Luigi Ferdinando Marsili (1658-1730), which was published in Amsterdam in 1725. The volume is subdivided into four parts that investigate the seabed, water quality, water movement, and marine plants and invertebrate organisms in the Gulf of Lion in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern coast of France between Provence and the Pyrenees.

 

Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, Histoire physique de la mer: Ouvrage enrichi de figures dessinées d’après le naturel (Amsterdam, 1725), fold-out plate 1. Chart of the Gulf of Lion.

 

The first part of the volume investigates the bathymetry and topography of the seabed of the Gulf of Lion. Marsili, also spelt as Marsigli,  produced a bathymetric chart, reproduced above, showing the shallow flat seabed of the continental shelf extending beyond the coast by taking regular depth soundings, which is shown on the map as the ‘Pleine’.  The steep descent at the shelf break that marks the extent of the continental shelf and the beginning of the continental slope is denoted by a depth contour line known as an isobath, which is possibly the earliest printed map to use isobaths.[1] The ‘Abyme’ marked on the chart records the seabed beyond the outer edge of the continental shelf where it was not possible for Marsili to obtain depth soundings. The chart also shows the locations where coral was harvested by local fishermen near the islands and coast as well as the locations where Marsili took seawater samples. Marsili also created profiles illustrating the seabed by taking depth soundings out to sea from selected points on the coast along lines depicted on the chart.[2]

 

The second part of the book pertains to water quality, and examines the temperature, salinity, gravity and density of surface and sub-surface seawater, which Marsili sampled at different depths and locations, and analysed using a thermometer, hydrostatic balance and ‘areometre’ or hydrometer. The third part relates to the movement of water and concerns Marsili’s observations on waves, currents, tides, and winds. The fourth and final part of the book is devoted to marine organisms that Marsili classified as plants mistakenly included corals and sponges. It is by far the longest section of the volume, consisting of 122 of the 173 pages of text followed by 40 plates of figures that were engraved by the Dutch engraver Matthys Pool (1670-c. 1732).[3] Marsili describes each of the marine specimens he examined in detail, which he dissected and analysed under magnification in his laboratory, and classified them under several different categories such as soft, stony and wood-like plants.[4]

 

Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, Histoire physique de la mer: Ouvrage enrichi de figures dessinées d’après le naturel (Amsterdam, 1725), Tab. XXX. Complete specimens and details of the corals Dendrophyllia cornigera and Madrepora oculata.

 

Marsili was born in Bologna and pursued private studies in Bologna, Padua and Rome, studying under, among others, the botanist Lelio Trionfetti (1647-1722), the anatomist Marcello Malpighi (1628-94), and the astronomer Geminiano Montanari (1632-87).[5] Marsili accompanied a Venetian diplomatic delegation that visited Constantinople, present day Istanbul, in 1679 and he stayed there for eleven months.[6] He published a treatise in the form of a letter addressed to Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-89) in Rome in 1681 entitled Osservazioni intorno al Bosforo Tracio overo canale di Constantinopoli … concerning the Bosphorus Strait in Constantinople that connects the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea, which consisted of 108 pages, a map and several diagrams. John Stoye describes the many topics discussed by Marsili in his treatise including ‘the geographical setting, the currents of the strait and their speed, barometric readings at various places, the prevailing wind system, the salinity of the water, the fish of the Bosphorus and their habits’.[7]

 

Marsili served in the Austrian imperial army as a military engineer and surveyor charged with strengthening the defences of fortifications and with the task of building pontoon bridges over rivers and swamps during the Great Turkish War (1683-99). He was also assigned important diplomatic missions, both official and secret, that involved frequent and extensive travelling.  He led the Austrian border commission that demarcated the Habsburg-Ottoman border following the Treaty of Karlowitz that ended the war. He also devoted his life to scientific pursuits during and following his military career. He was elected to several scientific academies and was the founder of the Accademia della Scienze dell’Istituto di Bologna in his home city in 1711.

 

Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, Histoire physique de la mer: Ouvrage enrichi de figures dessinées d’après le naturel (Amsterdam, 1725), Tab. XXIII, figs 108 & 109. The salabre, an apparatus to harvest coral and a cross-sectional drawing illustrating how it was lowered to reefs to entangle and haul in the coral.

 

Marsili was dismissed from the army by a military tribunal in February 1704 and he lost the financial support of Emperor Leopold I (1640-1705). He had been second in command of Breisach Castle on the banks of the Rhine river and was forced to surrender to the French after a brief siege in September 1703 during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-15).[8] Marsili went to Vienna after the military tribunal in an unsuccessful attempt to clear his name before moving first to Switzerland, then Milan and finally Montpellier in 1706. He turned his attention to studying marine science in the Gulf of Lion, which he carried out for several months at a time from the fishing village of Cassis near Marseille where he regularly went out on the small boats of the local coral fishermen.[9] The fishermen lowered an apparatus called a salabre, consisting of old netting attached to a cruciform framework, to reefs to entangle and haul in the coral, while Marsili took depth soundings and temperature measurements.[10] He installed a laboratory in his house and carried out analysis of the specimens he collected.[11] Marsili was a corresponding member of the Société Royale des Sciences de Montpellier that was founded in 1706. He gave talks on his observations to members of the Société on 12 and 19 August 1706 where he used watercolour illustrations including a location chart and a cross-section drawing of the seabed to show where and how the coral was harvested.[12]

 

The classification of corals, which are a species of animal, had long been a matter of scholarly debate. Marsili initially believed that corals were mineral concretions, but he changed his option completely and classified them as a plant following a discovery he made in December 1706.[13] At sea on 7 December 1706, Marsili placed some coral branches into a bucket of seawater to keep them fresh in order to analyse ashore later in his laboratory where he stored them in a cool place to match the temperature of the depth where the coral was harvested. He was shocked the following morning to find little white ‘flowers’ all over the branches. The flowers disappeared as soon as he removed the branches from the seawater and they reappeared once he put them back. He repeated this multiple times over the following eleven days until the flowers became yellow and congealed. Marsili went out again with the coral fishermen to a different reef on 14 January 1707 to gather more coral. He carried out further experiments by putting some branches in containers of seawater and hanging others in nets in the sea to corroborate his earlier findings. He wrote letters to the Abbé Jean-Paul Bignon (1662-1743), President of the Académie des Sciences in Paris, on 18 December 1706 and 21 February 1707, to notify him of his discovery.[14] Both letters were published in the Journal des sçavans in 1707.[15] Marsili omitted to mention in his letters to Bignon that François Xavier Bon de Saint Hilaire (1678-1761), President of the Société Royale des Sciences de Montpellier, was with him when he was examining the coral in his laboratory. Bon de Saint Hilaire looked at the ‘flowers’ with a hand lens and noticed them moving as though they were the legs or tentacles of an insect. Furthermore, the manner that they retracted when the branches were raised out of the seawater was reminiscent of an insect. He made Marsili aware of this, but Marsili had made up his mind that corals belonged to the plant kingdom.[16]

 

Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, Histoire physique de la mer: Ouvrage enrichi de figures dessinées d’après le naturel (Amsterdam, 1725), Tab. XL, fig. 180, no. 1. Coral ‘flowering’ in a glass vessel of seawater.

 

Marsili stayed in France until June 1708 when he was recalled to Italy by Pope Clement XI (1649-1721) to help organise the defences of the Papal States in a brief dispute with the Habsburg Empire.[17] Marsili returned to Cassis following some time in Bologna to finish the first four parts of his manuscript, abandoning a proposed fifth part on fish and other marine animals.[18] He sent the two-volume manuscript to Paris and Bignon acknowledged its receipt in August 1710 where extracts were read at two sessions of the Académie des Sciences.[19] The extracts were subsequently published in the 1710 issue of the Histoire de l’Académie royale des sciences, but the manuscript was not published in full.[20] Marsili was elected a foreign member of the Académie des Sciences in 1715.[21] He wrote a synopsis of the work in Italian in the form of a letter addressed to the Venetian botanist Cristino Martinelli (b. 1653) entitled Breve ristretto del saggio fisico intorno alla storia del mare scritta alla regia accademia delle scienze di Parigi, ora esposto in una lettera all’eccellentiss. signor Cristino Martinelli, nobile veneto that was published in Bologna and Venice in 1711. The preface included a translation of the letters he wrote to Bignon and Bignon’s acknowledgement of the manuscript’s receipt.[22]

 

Marsili carried out some further marine investigations in the Adriatic Sea when was he was asked by the Pope to survey and report on the defences of the Papal States along the Adriatic coast against a possible Ottoman attack in 1715.[23] He sailed from Livorno, traditionally known in English as Leghorn, on the Tuscan coast of Italy to London in September 1721, which provided him an opportunity to measure the temperature and salinity of surface seawater samples daily as well as to observe the weather, wind and waves. The journey allowed him to compare the waters and conditions as he traversed the western Mediterranean Sea through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean and up the English Channel to where vast quantities of fresh water and sediment is discharged into the North Sea from the Thames, Rhine and Meuse rivers. He attended a meeting of the Royal Society of London on 14 December 1721, where he was formally admitted as a Fellow in person, having been elected by the Society as a Fellow thirty years earlier on 25 November 1691.[24] He subsequently travelled from London to Hellevoetsluis in the Netherlands in January 1722. Marsili attended lectures by the noted botanist and chemist Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738) in Leiden and he undertook additional marine science research travelling along the Dutch coast.

 

Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, Histoire physique de la mer: Ouvrage enrichi de figures dessinées d’après le naturel (Amsterdam, 1725), title page.

 

Marsili had hoped to supplement the research he carried out in the Mediterranean with the observations he made during his journey from Livorno and along the Dutch coast, but Boerhaave encouraged him to publish the book as soon as possible and helped him negotiate its publication.[25] The manuscript, which had been sent from the library of the Académie des Sciences in Paris to Bologna with the intention of having the book published there, was dispatched to Amsterdam where it was published by a group of printers and booksellers known as the Dépens de la Compagnie in 1725.[26] The preface was written in Latin by Boerhaave with a parallel French translation by the editor Jean LeClerc.[27]

 

The Edward Worth Library’s six-volume set of Danubius Pannonico-Mysicus: Observationibus Geographicis, Astronomicis, Hydrographicis, Historicis, Physicis (The Hague & Amsterdam, 1726) by Marsili is the subject of the ‘Exploring the Danube at the Edward Worth Library’ online exhibition, which explores the geography, astronomy, hydrography, archaeology, geology and minerals, fish, birds, and plants and insects of the Danube.

 

Text: Mr Antoine Mac Gaoithín (Library Assistant at the Edward Worth Library).

 

Sources

 

Chapuis, Olivier, ‘Bathymetric Map’, in Matthew H. Edney & Mary Sponberg Pedley (eds), The History of Cartography. Volume 4, Cartography in the European Enlightenment (Chicago & London, 2019), pp 615-618.

Deák, Antal András (ed.), A Duna Fölfedezése. Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, Danubius Pannonico-Mysicus. Tomus I, A Duna Magyarországi és Szerbiai Szakasza = The Discovery of the Danube. Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, Danubius Pannonico-Mysicus. Volume I, The Hungarian and Serbian Section of the Danube (Budapest, 2004).

Deák, Antal András, ‘Marsigli, Luigi Ferdinando’, in Matthew H. Edney & Mary Sponberg Pedley (eds), The History of Cartography. Volume 4, Cartography in the European Enlightenment (Chicago & London, 2019), pp 920-922.

McConnell, Anita, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Voyage to London and Holland, 1721-1722’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 41, no. 1 (1986), 39-76.

McConnell, Anita, ‘A Profitable Visit: Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli’s Studies, Commerce and Friendships in Holland, 1722-23’, in C.S. Maffioli & L.C. Palm (eds), Italian scientists in the Low Countries in the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries (Amsterdam, 1989), pp 189-206.

McConnell, Anita, ‘The Flowers of Coral – Some Unpublished Conflicts From Montpellier and Paris During the Early 18th Century’, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 12, no. 1 (1990), 51-66.

McConnell, Anita, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Visit to London in 1721, and His Report on the Royal Society’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 47, no. 2 (1993), 179-204.

McConnell, Anita, ‘Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli (1658-1730): From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, The Mariner’s Mirror: The International Quarterly Journal of The Society for Nautical Research, 88, no. 3 (2002), 323-331.

McConnell, Anita, ‘L. F. Marsigli (1658-1730): Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, The International Hydrographic Review, 5, no. 2 (2004), 6-15.

McConnell, Anita, ‘Marsigli, Luigi Ferdinando (1658–1730)’, in John B. Hattendorf (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History (Oxford, 2007).

Morrison, Joel L., ‘Isobath’, in Matthew H. Edney & Mary Sponberg Pedley (eds), The History of Cartography. Volume 4, Cartography in the European Enlightenment (Chicago & London, 2019), pp 614-615.

Pinardi, Nadia, et al., ‘Measuring the Sea: Marsili’s Oceanographic Cruise (1679-80) and the Roots of Oceanography’, Journal of Physical Oceanography, 48, no. 4 (2018), 845-860.

Sartori, Renzo, ‘Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, founding father of oceanography = Luigi Ferdinando Marsili fondatore dell’oceanografia’, in Gian Battista Vai & William Cavazza (eds), Four centuries of the word geology : Ulisse Aldrovandi 1603 in Bologna = Quadricentenario della parola geologia : Ulisse Aldrovandi 1603 Bologna (Bologna, 2003), pp 169-177.

Soffientino, Bruno & Michael E. Q. Pilson, ‘Osservazioni Intorno al Bosforo Tracio Overo Canale di Constantinopoli Rappresentate in Lettera Alla Sacra Real Maestá Cristina Regina di Svezia da Luigi Ferdinando Marsilii, 1681: First English Translation, with Notes’, Earth Sciences History, 28, no. 1 (2009), 57-83.

Stoye, John, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730 : the life and times of Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, soldier and virtuoso (New Haven & London, 1994).

[1] Chapuis, Olivier, ‘Bathymetric Map’, in Matthew H. Edney & Mary Sponberg Pedley (eds), The History of Cartography. Volume 4, Cartography in the European Enlightenment (Chicago & London, 2019), pp 615-616; Morrison, Joel L., ‘Isobath’, in Matthew H. Edney & Mary Sponberg Pedley (eds), The History of Cartography. Volume 4, Cartography in the European Enlightenment (Chicago & London, 2019), p. 614.

[2] McConnell, Anita, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Voyage to London and Holland, 1721-1722’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 41, no. 1 (1986), 42; McConnell, Anita, ‘Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli (1658-1730): From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, The Mariner’s Mirror: The International Quarterly Journal of The Society for Nautical Research, 88, no. 3 (2002), 327-328; McConnell, Anita, ‘L. F. Marsigli (1658-1730): Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, The International Hydrographic Review, 5, no. 2 (2004), 10; Sartori, Renzo, ‘Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, founding father of oceanography = Luigi Ferdinando Marsili fondatore dell’oceanografia’, in Gian Battista Vai & William Cavazza (eds), Four centuries of the word geology : Ulisse Aldrovandi 1603 in Bologna = Quadricentenario della parola geologia : Ulisse Aldrovandi 1603 Bologna (Bologna, 2003), pp 172-173; Stoye, John, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730 : the life and times of Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, soldier and virtuoso (New Haven & London, 1994), p. 270.

[3] McConnell, Anita, ‘A Profitable Visit: Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli’s Studies, Commerce and Friendships in Holland, 1722-23’, in C.S. Maffioli & L.C. Palm (eds), Italian scientists in the Low Countries in the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries (Amsterdam, 1989), p. 190; McConnell, Anita, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Visit to London in 1721, and His Report on the Royal Society’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 47, no. 2 (1993), 198; Sartori, ‘Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, founding father of oceanography’, p. 172; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, p. 296.

[4] McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 328; McConnell, ‘Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, 10-12; Sartori, ‘Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, founding father of oceanography’, pp 173-174; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, p. 270.

[5] McConnell, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Voyage to London and Holland, 1721-1722’, 39; McConnell, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Visit to London in 1721’, 180; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, p. 8.

[6] McConnell, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Visit to London in 1721’, 180-181; Pinardi, Nadia, et al., ‘Measuring the Sea: Marsili’s Oceanographic Cruise (1679-80) and the Roots of Oceanography’, Journal of Physical Oceanography, 48, no. 4 (2018), 847; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, pp 17-18.

[7] Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, p. 26.

[8] Deák, Antal András (ed.), A Duna Fölfedezése. Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, Danubius Pannonico-Mysicus. Tomus I, A Duna Magyarországi és Szerbiai Szakasza = The Discovery of the Danube. Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli, Danubius Pannonico-Mysicus. Volume I, The Hungarian and Serbian Section of the Danube (Budapest, 2004), pp 124 & 130; Deák, Antal András, ‘Marsigli, Luigi Ferdinando’, in Matthew H. Edney & Mary Sponberg Pedley (eds), The History of Cartography. Volume 4, Cartography in the European Enlightenment (Chicago & London, 2019), p. 921; McConnell, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Visit to London in 1721’, 183; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, pp 239-246.

[9] Sartori, ‘Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, founding father of oceanography’, p. 171; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, pp 263-270.

[10] McConnell, Anita, ‘The Flowers of Coral – Some Unpublished Conflicts From Montpellier and Paris During the Early 18th Century’, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 12, no. 1 (1990), 53; McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 325; McConnell, ‘Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, 8; Sartori, ‘Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, founding father of oceanography’, p. 173; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, p. 267.

[11] McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 325-326; McConnell, ‘Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, 10; Sartori, ‘Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, founding father of oceanography’, 169.

[12] McConnell, ‘The Flowers of Coral’, 53; McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 325; McConnell, ‘Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, 9; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, p. 267.

[13] McConnell. ‘The Flowers of Coral’, 51 & 54; McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 325-326; McConnell, ‘Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, 9-10; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, pp. 267-268.

[14] McConnell, ‘The Flowers of Coral’, 56-58; McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 326-327; McConnell, ‘Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, 10; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, p. 268.

[15]Extrait d’une lettre ecrite de Cassis, près de Marseille, le 18. de Decembre 1706, à Monsieur l’Abbé Bignon, par Monsieur le Comte Marsilli, touchant quelques branches de Corail qui ont fleuri’, Supplement du  Journal des sçavans du dernier de Fevrier M.DCC.VII (1707), 59-66; ‘Memoire envoyé de Marseille, le 21 de Février 1707, à Monsieur l’Abbé Bignon, par M. le Comte Marsilli, pour servir de confirmation à la découverte des fleurs du corail, dont il a été parlé dans le Supplément du même mois, page 59’, Supplement du Journal des sçavans du dernier de May M.DCC.VII (1707), 193-198.

[16] McConnell, ‘The Flowers of Coral’, 58-61; McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 327; McConnell, ‘Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, 10.

[17] Deák, The Discovery of the Danube, p. 132; McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 328; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, pp 271-276.

[18] McConnell, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Voyage to London and Holland, 1721-1722’, 41; McConnell, ‘The Flowers of Coral’, 63; McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 327 & 328; McConnell, ‘Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, 10 & 12.

[19] McConnell, ‘The Flowers of Coral’, 63; McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 328; McConnell, ‘Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, 12; Sartori, ‘Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, founding father of oceanography’, p. 176.

[20] Summaries and comments, under the headings of Physics, Chemistry and Botany, appeared in the Histoire de l’Académie royale des sciences. Avec les memories de mathématique & de physique pour la même année M.DCC.X (1710), 23-29, 48-54 & 69-78.

[21] Deák, The Discovery of the Danube, p. 131; McConnell, ‘A Profitable Visit’, p. 190; McConnell, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Visit to London in 1721’, 183.

[22] McConnell, ‘The Flowers of Coral’, 63; McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 328; McConnell, ‘Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, 12.

[23] McConnell, ‘A Profitable Visit’, p. 190; McConnell, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Visit to London in 1721’, 184; McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 328; Sartori, ‘Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, founding father of oceanography’, p. 176.

[24] McConnell, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Visit to London in 1721’, 179, 180 & 187; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, pp 111 & 293.

[25] McConnell, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Voyage to London and Holland’, 40 & 43; McConnell, ‘A Profitable Visit’, pp 192-198; McConnell, ‘L. F. Marsigli’s Visit to London in 1721’, 186 & 189; McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 328-329; McConnell, ‘Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, 12-13; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, pp 292 & 295-296.

[26] Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, p. 296.

[27] McConnell, ‘A Profitable Visit’, pp 198 & 201; McConnell, ‘From professional soldier to ‘Father of Oceanography’’, 329; McConnell, ‘Early Contributions to Marine Science and Hydrography’, 13; Stoye, Marsigli’s Europe, 1680-1730, p. 296.

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