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Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)


Eleusis or Eleusin: Eth. Eleusinios (Lepsina). A demus of Attica, belonging to the tribe Hippothoontis. It owed its celebrity to its being the chief seat of the worship of Demeter and Persephone, and to the mysteries celebrated in honour of these goddesses, which were called the Eleusinia, and continued to be regarded as the most sacred of all the Grecian mysteries down to the fall of paganism. As an account of these mysteries, and of the legends respecting their institution, is given elsewhere where, it only remains now to speak of the topography and history of the town. Eleusis stood upon a height at a short distance from the sea, and opposite the island of Salamis. Its situation possessed three natural advantages. It was on the road from Athens to the Isthmus; it was in a very fertile plain; and it was at the head of an extensive bay, formed on three sides by the coast of Attica, and shut in on the south by the island of Salamis. The town itself dates from the most ancient times. It appears to have derived its name from the supposed advent (eleusis) of Demeter, though some traced its name from an eponymous hero Eleusis. (Paus. i. 38.7.) It was one of the 12 independent states into which Attica was said to have been originally divided. (Strab. ix. p. 397.) It was related that in the reign of Eumolpus, king of Eleusis, and Erechtheus, king of Athens, there was a war between the two states, in which the Eleusinians were defeated, whereupon they agreed to acknowledge the supremacy of Athens in every thing except the celebration of the mysteries, of which they were to continue to have the management. (Thucyd. ii. 15; Paus. i. 38.3.) Eleusis afterwards became an Attic demus, but in consequence of its sacred character it was allowed to retain the title of polis (Strab. ix.; Paus. i. 38.7), and to coin its own money, a privilege possessed by no other town in Attica, except Athens. The history of Eleusis is part of the history of Athens. Once a year the great Eleusinian procession travelled from Athens to Eleusis, along the Sacred Way, which has been already described at length. The ancient temple of Demeter at Eleusis was burnt by the Persians in B.C. 484 (Herod. ix.); and it was not till the administration of Pericles that an attempt was made to rebuild it. When the power of the Thirty was overthrown after the Peloponnesian War, they retired to Eleusis, which they had secured beforehand, but where they maintained themselves for only a short time. (Xen. Hell. ii. 4. 8, seq., 43) Under the Romans Eleusis enjoyed great prosperity, as initiation into its mysteries became fashionable among the Roman nobles. It was destroyed by Alaric in A.D. 396, and from that time disappears from history. When Spon and Wheler visited the site in 1676, it was entirely deserted. In the following century it was again inhabited, and it Ad is now a small village called Lephina, which is only a corruption of the ancient name. Eleusis was built at the eastern end of a low rocky height, a mile in length, which lies parallel to the sea-shore, and is separated to the west from the falls of Mount Cerata by a narrow branch of the plain. The eastern extremity of the hill was levelled artificially for the reception of the Hierum of Demeter and the other sacred buildings. Above these are the ruins of an acropolis. [ "Castellum, quod et imminet, et circumdatum est templo," Liv. xxxi. 25.] A triangular space of about 500 yards each side, lying between the hill and the shore, was occupied by the town of Eleusis. On the eastern side the town wall is traced along the summit of an artificial embankment, carried across the marshy ground from some heights near the Hierum, on one of which stands a castle (built during the middle ages of the Byzantine empire). This wall, according to a common practice in the military architecture of the Greeks, was prolonged into the sea, so as to form a mole sheltering a harbour, which was entirely artificial, and was formed by this and two other longer moles which project about 100 yards into the sea. There are many remains of walls and buildings along the shore, as well as in other parts of the town and citadel; but they are mere foundations, the Hierum alone preserving any considerable remains. (Leake.) Pausanias has left us only a very brief description of Eleusis (i. 38. 6): The Eleusinians have a temple of Triptolemus, another of Artemis Propylaea, and a third of Poseidon the Father, and a well called Callichorum, where the Eleusinian women first instituted a dance and sang in honour of the goddess. They say that the Rharian plain was the first place in which corn was sown and first produced a harvest, and that hence barley from this plan is employed for making sacrificial cakes. There the so-called threshing-floor and altar of Triptolemus are shewn. The things within the wall of the Hierum [i. e. the temple of Demeter] a dream forbade me to describe. The Rharian plain is also mentioned in the Homeric Hymn to Artemis (450): it appears to have been in the neighbourhood of the city; but its site cannot be determined.
  The present state of the antiquities at Eleusis is described by the Commission of the Dilettanti, of whose researches a brief account is given by Leake. Upon approaching Eleusis from Athens, the first conspicuous object is the remains of a large pavement, terminating in some heaps of ruins, which are the remains of a propylaeum, of very nearly the same plan and dimensions as that of the Acropolis of Athens. Before it, near the middle of a platform cut in the rock, are the ruins of a small temple, 40 feet long and 20 broad, which was undoubtedly the temple of Artemis Propylaea. The peribolus, which abutted on the Propylaeum, formed the exterior inclosure of the Hierum. At a distance of 50 feet from the propylaeum was the north-eastern angle of the inner inclosure, which was in shape an irregular pentagon. Its entrance was at the angle just mentioned, where the rock was cut away both horizontally and vertically to receive another propylaeum much smaller than the former, and. which consisted of an opening 32 feet wide between two parallel walls of 50 feet in length. Towards the inner extremity this opening was narrowed by transverse walls to a gateway of 12 feet in width, which was decorated with antae, opposed to two Ionic columns. Between the inner front of this propylaeum and the site of the great temple lay, until the year 1801, the colossal bust of Pentelic marble, crowned with a basket, which is now deposited in the public library at Cambridge. It has been supposed to be a fragment of the statue of Demeter which was adored in the temple; but, to judge from the position in which it was found, and from the unfinished appearance of the surface in those few parts where any original surface remains, the statue seems rather to have been that of a Cistophorus, serving for some architectural decoration, like the Caryatides of the Erechtheium.
  The temple of Demeter itself, sometimes called mustikos sekos, or to telesterion, was the largest in all Greece, and is described by Strabo as capable of containing as many persons as a theatre (ix. p. 395). The plan of the building was designed by Ictinus, the architect of the Parthenon at Athens; but it was many years before it was completed, and the names of several architects are preserved who were employed in building it. Its portico of 12 columns was not built till the time of Demetrius Phalereus, about B.C. 318, by the architect Philo. (Strab. l. c.; Plut. Per. 13; Dict. of Biogr. vol. iii. p. 314, a.) When finished, it was considered one of the four finest examples of Grecian architecture in marble. It faced the south-east. Its site is occupied by the centre of the modern village, in consequence of which it is difficult to obtain all the details of the building. The Commission of the Dilettanti Society supposed the cella to be 166 feet square within; and comparing the fragments which they found with the description of Plutarch (Per. 13), they thought themselves warranted in concluding that the roof of the cella was covered with tiles of marble like the temples of Athens; that it was supported by 28 Doric columns, of a diameter (measured under the capital) of 3 feet 2 inches; that the columns were disposed in two double rows across the cella, one near the front, the other near the back; and that they were surmounted by ranges of smaller columns, as in the Parthenon, and as we still see exemplified in one of the existing temples at Paestum. The cella was fronted with a magnificent portico of 12 Doric columns, measuring 61 1/2 feet at the lower diameter of the shaft, but fluted only in a narrow ring at the top and bottom. The platform at the back of the temple was 20 feet above the level of the pavement of the portico. An ascent of steps led up to this platform on the outside of the north-western angle of the temple, not far from where another flight of steps ascended from the platform to a portal adorned with two columns, which perhaps formed a small propylaeum, communicating from the Hierum to the Acropolis.
  There are no remains which can be safely ascribed to the temple of Triptolemus, or to that of Poseidon. The well Callichorum may have been that which is now seen not far from the foot of the northern side of the hill of Eleusis, within the bifurcation of two roads leading to Megara and to Eleutherae, for near it are the foundations of a wall and portico. Near Eleusis was the monument of Tellus, mentioned by Herodotus (i. 30).
  The town of Eleusis and its immediate neighbourhood were exposed to inundations from the river Cephissus, which, though almost dry during the greater part of the year, is sometimes swollen to such an extent as to spread itself over a large part of the plain. Demosthenes alludes to inundations at Eleusis (c. Callicl. p. 1279); and Hadrian raised some embankments in the plain in consequence of an inundation which occurred while he was spending the winter at Athens (Euseb. Chron. p. 81). In the plain about a mile to the south of Eleusis are the remains of two ancient mounds, which are probably the embankments of Hadrian. To the same emperor most likely Eleusis was indebted for a supply of good water by means of the aqueduct, the ruins of which are still seen stretching across the plain from Eleusis in a north-easterly direction. (Leake, Demi of Attica, p. 154, seq., from which the greater part of the preceding account is taken.) The annexed coin represents on the obverse Demeter in a chariot drawn by winged snakes, and holding in her hand a bunch of corn, and on the reverse a sow, the animal usually sacrificed to Demeter.

This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited June 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities


Eleusis or Eleusin. A city of Attica, equidistant from Megara and the Piraeus, and famed for the celebration of the mysteries of Demeter. According to some writers it derived its name from a hero, whom some affirmed to be the son of Hermes but others of Ogyges (Pausan. i. 38). Its origin is certainly of the highest antiquity, as it appears to have already existed in the time of Cecrops, but we are not informed by whom, or at what period, the worship of Demeter was introduced there. Eusebius places the building of the first temple in the reign of Pandion; but, according to other authors, it is more ancient. Celeus is said to have been king of Eleusis when Demeter first arrived there.
    At one period Eleusis was powerful enough to contend with Athens for the sovereignty of Attica. This was in the time of Eumolpus. The controversy was ended by a treaty, wherein it was stipulated that Eleusis should yield to the control of Athens, but that the sacred rites of Demeter should be celebrated at the former city. Demeter and Triptolemus were both worshipped here with peculiar solemnity, and here also was shown the Rarius Campus, where Demeter was said to have first sown corn. The temple of Eleusis was burned by the Persian army in the in vasion of Attica, but was rebuilt, under the administration of Pericles, by Ictinus, the architect of the Parthenon. This magnificent structure was entirely destroyed by Alaric in the year A.D. 396. Eleusis, though so considerable and important a place, was classed among the Attic demes and belonged to the tribe Hippothoontis. The colossal statue of the Eleusinian Demeter, the work of Phidias, after having suffered many mutilations, was taken to England by Dr. Clarke and Mr. Cripps in 1801, and now stands in the vestibule of the University Library at Cambridge. The temple itself was cleared by Sir William Gell, and important excavations have been made by the Greek Archaeological Society since 1887.

This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks



Eleusis. Name of a city on the coast of the Saronic Gulf, a few miles west of Athens that became an Attic deme after having been annexed to Athens in the later part of the VIIth century B. C.
  Eleusis had been the location of a cult to Demeter, daughter of Cronus and Rhea, goddess of agriculture, fertility and marriage, since very ancient times, and was the site of one of her most famous sanctuaries. Because of her relationship with Athens, Eleusis became one of the major sacred places of Greece, especially famed for its “Mysteries”. By Socrates and Plato's time, the “Eleusinian mysteries” were an official festival of Athens celebrated under the leadership of the Archon-King with the help of priests from three noble families (genoi ) of Athens: the hierophant, in charge of exhibiting the sacred objects (the hiera ), was from the Eumolpidae (the “good singers”), the priestess of Demeter was from the Philleidae and torch-bearers (dadouchoi ) from the Ceryces (the “heralds”). These priests tracked their origins to Eumolpus, the Thracian king son of Poseidon and Chione.
  Eumolpus had lived in Eleusis at some point in time in his life and had then befriended its citizens, who later, after he had become king in Thracia, called upon him to help them in their war against Athens and Erechtheus, a war won by Athens, in which Eumolpus was killed. Eumolpus was sometimes said to have instituted the mysteries of Eleusis. The Eumolpidae presented themselves as the offspring of Eumolpus while the Ceryces pretended to descend from one of Eumolpus' sons named Ceryx.
  The “Small Mysteries” were celebrated during the month of Anthesterion (end of February, beginning of March) in honor of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, abducted by Hades who made her his wife in the underworld, and symbol of the seed that has to disappear within the soil before bearing fruit. The “Great mysteries” were celebrated six months later, during the month of Boedromion (end of September, beginning of October), in honor of Demeter herself. The festival lasted 10 days. It included a procession from the Eleusinion, a temple at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens to the Telesterion in Eleusis, along the “Sacred Way” and ended with rites reserved to the initiates (the mystes) that lasted three days. The ultimate symbol of the rite of initiation was an ear of wheat, and the mystes were promised some sort of personnal survival after death in an everlasting life of happiness.
  One noteworthy originality of the Eleusinian mysteries was that anybody could become an initiate without regard to status: initiation was open to free men and slaves alike, to men and women, Athenians and foreigners, despite the fact that, unlike most other mystery cults of the time, the Eleusinian mysteries had an official status in Athens.

Bernard Suzanne (page last updated 1998), ed.
This extract is cited July 2003 from the Plato and his dialogues URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks.

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites


Eleusis. A small hilly site about 22 km to the W of Athens, lying at the head of the Thriasian plain and on the coast of a lake-like sea bordered by Salamis. Because of its location, it has been inhabited from the Early Bronze Age to the present. Its periods of fame were due to the secret cult of Demeter, known as the Eleusinian Mysteries, celebrated once a year. The cult, introduced during the Mycenaean Age, became Panhellenic in the 6th c. B.C. and acquired universal status in Roman Imperial times. In the Classical period the township was identified with the Sanctuary of the Goddess. It was devastated first by the army of Xerxes in 480-479 B.C., then by the Kostovoks in 170 B.C., and finally by the hordes of Alaric in A.D. 395. The first two destructions were followed by rebuilding; the site never recovered from the last destruction and by the end of the 5th c. it was completely ruined by the Christians.
  Excavations, continuous since 1882, have revealed the ruins of the famous Sanctuary of Demeter. For privacy its area was surrounded by fortifications in successive eras, in Geometric and archaic times, in the days of Peisistratos, Kimon, and Perikles, and in 380-370 B.C. Surviving in good length, they prove that an ever increasing popularity of the cult was followed by enlargements of the sanctuary area.
  At its N edge is the outer court, 65 x 40 m, paved in Roman times. Along the E side of the court we find the remains of a fountain-house, 11.30 m in length, dating from the Roman period. At its two corners, the SE and the SW, triumphal arches identical to that of Hadrian in Athens were erected after A.D. 129. The SW arch, now being restored, is better preserved. Above its single archway we read the inscription, All the Greeks to the Goddesses and the Emperor. That arch opened to a road running along the peribolos wall of Kimon, strengthened in Roman times. On its N side survive remnants of buildings in which the initiates once could find temporary accommodations.
  On the paved court stands the high podium, made of Roman concrete, of the Temple of Artemis of the Portals and Father Poseidon. Built of Pentelic marble before the reign of Marcus Aurelius, it had a front and rear portico with Doric columns. Beyond its NE corner is a well-preserved, unique ground altar of baked brick set in a rectangular court, dating from Roman times. To the S and E the outer court was blocked by the Greater Propylaia and by a fortification wall of Peisistratean times, which was continued to the SE to enclose the township of Eleusis.
  The Greater Propylaia face NE, toward Athens, and form the main entranceway to the sanctuary. They stand on a stepped platform rising 1.70 m above the floor of the court. Of Pentelic marble, they are an exact duplicate of the central section of the Periklean Propylaia of the Acropolis, with an inner and an outer portico fronted by Doric columns. The outer portico, 15.24 m in depth, uses six Ionic columns in two rows in its depth. The inner portico, facing the sanctuary, is only 7.36 m in depth. The cross-wall between the porticos was pierced by five doorways. The floor has survived, as have fragments of the entablature, and even some blocks of its pediment decorated with a bust of its builder, Marcus Aurelius, in a shield. The lowermost step on the E side was interrupted to allow access to one of the sacred landmarks of Eleusis, a well rebuilt by Peisistratos and since then known as the Kallichoron.
  To the S of the Greater stand the Lesser Propylaia. They were built of Pentelic marble after 50 B.C. by the nephews of Appius Claudius Pulcher in fulfillment of his vows over the Peisistratean Gate, the N Pylon, whose flanking tower can be seen under its platform of Roman concrete. At the depth of a forecourt (9.80 x 10.35 m) paved with large slabs, is the doorway, 2.95 m wide. It was sheltered by a prothyron on the outside and a vestibule on the inside. The prothyron, 4.40 m in depth, has two Corinthian columns whose bases and elaborate capitals with winged animals among the corner tendrils have survived. The entablature has an Ionic architrave, on which is cut the Latin dedicatory inscription, and a frieze of triglyphs and metopes embellished with cists, bukrania, and stylized double poppies. The inner vestibule, facing the sanctuary, was fronted by two Caryatids set on high podia. One of these is in the local museum, the other in the Fitzwilliam.
  To the SW of the Lesser Propylaia, separated by a wall built by Valerian, are foundations of structures which served the functionaries of the sanctuary.
  From the Lesser Propylaia begins the ascending Sacred Way, paved in Roman times, which terminated to the S at the Temple of Demeter known as the Telesterion, since in it was completed the Telete, the initiation service. Immediately to the right of the Sacred Way is a cave within which survive the foundations of a 4th c. B.C. temple (2.98 x 3.77 m) dedicated to Pluto. Built of poros stone in the form of a templum in antis, it stands in a triangular court retained by a wall of poros stone. Adjacent to the cave on the S is a stepped platform cut out of the rock, 10.50 x 6.25 m, which perhaps served as a stand from which the initiates followed an act of the sacred pageant, for somewhere in front of it was the Mirthless Stone, another sacred landmark. Above its S side stood a small treasury, some 6 x 2.90 m, by the side of which, still to be seen, is a boulder used as a donation box for small gifts.
  Next to the platform on the S is a deep cutting in the rock in which can be seen the foundations of a building, 14.10 x 11.20 m, whose front was built over an artificially constructed terrace. It was in the form of a templum in antis with a wide stairway in its front elevation. The building was at first identified as the pre-Persian Temple of Demeter, but it is proved to have been constructed in Roman times and perhaps was dedicated to Sabina, the New Demeter. Between this temple and the Telesterion exists a narrow stairway cut in the rock, an ascent to another Roman temple built on the hill.
  No building was constructed along the E, or left-hand side of the Sacred Way. Beyond its edge and limited by the Kimonian wall can be seen remains of the Peisistratean peribolos composed of a stone sole surmounted by a mudbrick wall, as well as foundations of a variety of buildings. Most important of these is a triangular structure of Periklean times with three rows of square pillars: the famous Siroi, or magazines, where the tithes to the goddess were stored. Again on the left-hand side, as we approach the Telesterion, we can see the retaining walls built in the Geometric, archaic, and Periklean periods and in the 4th c. B.C. to support the terrace on which were constructed the successive Telesteria of Demeter.
  On that terrace, above the Mycenaean remains, a fragment of an apsidal wall, built ca. 750 B.C., seems to belong to the earliest Telesterion of the historic period. To that temple and terrace access was obtained through a stairway on the S side near which remains of sacrificial pyres attest to the sacred character of the terrace and its building. Mound 600 B.C. a larger Telesterion, known as the Solonian, was built over the same area of the slope, but on an enlarged terrace. Its SW corner survives, proving that at least the lower part of the temple was built of bluish-gray Eleusinian stone in the Lesbian polygonal style. The temple had an oblong plan, 24 x 14 m, with a double sloping roof ending in triangular pediments. In front of it spread a triangular court where the altars of the goddesses stood. Below the terrace to the NE a stepped platform faces a lower court bordered by an altar and a well. In the archaic period it served the initiates to follow the sacred dances held in front of the well in honor of the goddess.
  In the days of Peisistratos and his sons, 550-510 B.C., the Solonian Telesterion was replaced by a larger one, built of well-cut poros stone over the same area of the slope. Its foundations of hard limestone were lowered to rock level. The temple possesses an almost square naos or cella, 25.30 x 27.10 m, fronted on the E side by a prostoon with perhaps 10 Doric columns in its facade. The roof of the naos was supported by 22 Ionic columns. In the SW section of the naos was the anaktoron, a separate shrine, where the hiera were kept. On three lengths of its walls, interrupted only by the shrine, rose tiers of nine steps from which the initiates could follow the rites. Three doors opened from the naos to the prostoon. The entablature was of poros stone, but its raking cornice and the simas, with ornamental rams' heads at the corners, were of Parian marble.
  The Peisistratean Telesterion was devastated by the Persians in 480-479 B.C. Using its foundations, Kimon began the building of a new Telesterion whose scanty remains prove that it was never completed. Literary (Vitruvius, Strabo, Plutarch) and epigraphical evidence indicates that two different buildings were attempted in the Periklean Age. One was designed by Iktinos and its construction was begun but soon abandoned. The few surviving remains, especially foundations of columns, indicate that it was composed of an almost square naos whose roof, supported by 20 columns, had an opaion or lantern in the center. Its W side was cut deeply into the rock of the hillside. The second building was designed and executed by Koroibos, Metagenes, and Xenokles. It was burned in 170 B.C. and was rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius. The only change made in the original plan was to increase the length of the naos by 2.15 m. What we can see today belongs to the rebuilt temple.
  The Telesterion designed by Koroibos was composed of a square naos, ca. 51 m in length (increased to ca. 53 m in Roman times) and ca. 51 m in width. A good part of its W section was cut out of the living rock. The roof was supported by 42 columns arranged in seven rows of 6 columns in each row. The floor columns supported a second tier of lighter columns and in the middle of the roof there was an opaion. Under the opaion in the naos was the anaktoron, scanty traces of which have been recently recognized; at its NE comer stood a niche containing the throne of the Hierophant. Tiers of eight steps for the initiates were arranged along the walls on all four sides of the naos, interrupted by two doorways on each of three sides, the N, E, and S. In the 4th c. B.C. a portico was built in front of its E side, known as the Philonian Stoa from the name of its architect. Today we have the foundations of the stoa, the stereobate or its floor, some drums of its columns, and parts of its superstructure, all built of Pentelic marble, while the foundations were of poros stone. The stoa measures 54.50 x 11.35 m. The exterior aspect of the naos with its unbroken wall of gray-blue stone unrelieved by columns, solemn and austere, must have been awe-inspiring, well suited to its mystic function.
  Behind the Telesterion, some 7.35 m above its floor, a terrace, 11.45 m in width, is cut in the rock. This terrace, as well as the narrow stairway to the N and the broad stepped platform cut in the rock to the S, are of Roman date. The terrace led to a stepped approach of a Roman temple built on the NE extremity of the hill. The temple had a cella, 18 x 12 m, roofed by a vault and a portico, ca. 4.5 m in depth, with four columns in antis. Perhaps it was dedicated to Faustina the elder, who also had the title of New Demeter. The terrace and the temple extended to the wall--known as the diateichisma, few remains of which survive--that separated the sanctuary area from the summit of the hill.
  The broad stepped platform to the S of the Telesterion faced the S court, where perhaps the rites of the balletys, the pelting with stones, was performed and was witnessed by people standing on the platform. The S court to the E is bound by fortification walls built by Perikles and extended in 370-360 B.C. to the SE and S. The 4th c. wall, averaging 2.55 m in thickness, is the best-known example of Greek fortification walls. Along its inner side was built a long structure divided by cross-walls into six compartments. Its use is problematical; perhaps it served important members of the personnel, or was used for storing the tithes. Along the S section of the 4th c. B.C. wall, where we find the well-preserved Gate to the Sea, exist the foundations of a 3d c. building identified as the bouleuterion, where the City Council, and occasionally the 500 of Athens, met. Farther W from the Gate to the Sea scanty remnants of a long stoa survive, dating perhaps from the 4th century B.C.
  The sanctuary area, cleared to the rock, has yielded remains that enable us to piece together the history and the architectural activity of the site. Of the village itself very little survives. Most important are the remains of the Peisistratean fortification wall that surrounded the N section of the village with its gate toward Athens, the Asty Gate. On the S slope of the hill a well-known relic in the form of a vaulted round chamber with a passage attached to its E side, was taken to be a tholos tomb of Mycenaean times. It has been proved to be a cistern of the 4th c. B.C. belonging to the village.

G. E. Mylonas, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains 47 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.

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