Eusebius of Caesarea: Tradition and Innovations

  Johnson, Aaron, and Jeremy Schott, eds. 2013. Eusebius of Caesarea: Tradition and Innovations. Hellenic Studies Series 60. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Afterword. Receptions

Jeremy M. Schott

Late-ancient and Byzantine Receptions

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History served as the launching point for fourth- and fifth-century writers of ecclesiastical history. Later historians’ assessments of Eusebius are mixed. Philostorgius “praises Eusebius, including what pertains to his history, [but] he says that he erred in orthodoxy.” [3] Socrates includes a lengthy passage praising Eusebius “in order to refute those who have misrepresented him,” perhaps having Philostorgius’ critiques in view. [4] Evagrius Scholasticus praised Eusebius’ style, but disparaged his orthodoxy, remarking that he “was particularly erudite . . . especially in the ability to persuade his readers to practice our faith, even if he was not capable of making them absolutely correct.” [5] Eusebius’ “continuators,” however, did not necessarily adopt every dimension of Eusebius’ historical methodology and aesthetic. Notably, they did not opt for extensive block quotations of literary and documentary texts as a compositional and narrative device. [6] When Socrates and Sozomen quote documents, for example, they take them from Eusebius’ Life of Constantine and Athanasius’ apologetic treatises. And although Eusebius describes it as a key feature of his work, subsequent writers of ecclesiastical history did not follow his interest in the history of Christian literature; [7] rather, in Gelasius, Rufinus, Philostorgius, Theodoret, Socrates, and Sozomen, the heresiological and conciliar threads of church history dominate. The literary-historical ingredient in Eusebius’ oeuvre was distilled by Jerome, and became an important source for his own Christian literary history in On Illustrious Men.

The extant literary-critical and heresiological receptions of Eusebius in late antiquity and the Byzantine world were mixed; he was most often regarded as a learned writer with a suspect personal and doctrinal history. In this short conclusion, I will outline briefly several illustrative receptions of Eusebius: by Rufinus and Jerome, in the late-fourth/early-fifth centuries, and by the patriarch and bibliophile Photius in the ninth century.

Eusebius figured prominently in the transmission of earlier Greek patristic literature, especially Origen, among Latin readers. Jerome included Eusebius in On Illustrious Men, his catalog of major Christian authors:

Jerome had visited the library at Caesarea, and in On Illustrious Men touches briefly on the history of the collection under Eusebius’ successors. [
11] Interestingly, Jerome does not seem to know Eusebius’ earlier works, such as the General Elementary Introduction and Against Hierocles. It was probably from the library at Caesarea that Jerome obtained his copy of Origen’s Commentary on the Twelve Prophets, copied by Pamphilus: “I hug and guard [them] with such joy, that I deem myself to have the wealth of Croesus. And if it is such joy to have one epistle of a martyr how much more to have so many thousand lines which seem to me to be traced in his blood.” [12] Jerome’s brief catalog, of course, belies the depth of his reception of Eusebius. He translated (and updated) the Chronici Canones and Onomasticon, and drew heavily from Eusebius’ Commentary on Isaiah in his own commentary on that text.

But, while Jerome values Eusebius’ biblical scholarship in On Illustrious Men, written in the early 390’s before the outbreak of the Origenist controversies, his assessment shifts in his later polemical exchanges with Rufinus. Jerome, for example, contended that the whole of the Apology had been authored not by Pamphilus, a true martyr, but by Eusebius, a known Arian. [13] Rufinus, moreover, had argued, in a short work On the Falsification of the Books of Origen appended to his translation of Eusebius’ and Pamphilus’ Apology for Origen, that doctrinally suspect material in Origen’s corpus was due to interpolation by heretics. Jerome in turn contended that if there were an interpolator (a theory he found suspect), it may have been none other than Eusebius:

Scholarship on the “Origenist controversy” has shown how Jerome, like Rufinus, had constructed his own literary persona on the back of Origen’s works. [
15] Insofar as “Origen” had come to the late-fourth century in large part via Caesarea, Eusebius and his works were also implicated in Jerome’s presentation of himself as an orthodox man of letters. Thus, in his later career he would “spin” his earlier reception of Eusebius much as he tempered his earlier self-presentation as a scholar of Origen; in a letter of ca. 400, he would describe Eusebius as “the most open champion of the Arian impiety.” [16]

Photius also remarked on Eusebius’ style. He found his phrasing/mode of expression (phrasis) “in no way pleasant, nor does it embrace brilliance.” [18] He admired Eusebius as a “polymath” whose way of life was “smart and constant, even if he was wanting in respect of accuracy in his doctrines.” [19] He is especially critical of Eusebius’ account of the Council of Nicaea and the Arian controversy in the Life of Constantine. Eusebius would have it, for example, that the Arian “heresy” was merely a “dispute between Alexander and Arius” that was ameliorated successfully by the Council. Photius also chastises Eusebius for failing to record the judgments against Arius, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Theognis of Nicaea, and Maris of Chalcedon. Finally, Photius accuses Eusebius of dissimulation in his account of the depositions of Eustathius of Antioch and Athanasius. [20] Eusebius never mentions Eustathius by name, and portrays the events surrounding his deposition merely as “revolt and tumult,” despite the fact that Eusebius was instrumental in the opposition against Eustathius. [21] As for Athanasius, Eusebius reports only that Alexandria was “filled with revolt and tumult” and describes the bishops sent by the Council of Tyre to investigate charges of murder against Athanasius as an intervention of bishops to restore peace. Photius was thus a close reader of the Life of Constantine and had compared Eusebius’ narrative with parallel accounts in other ecclesiastical histories. Modern scholarship on the Life echoes many of Photius’ observations. [22]

Modern Receptions and Future Directions

Along with Origen and Augustine, Eusebius is also one of the late-ancient Christian writers who appear regularly in comprehensive, globalizing histories of the sort that might be read in introductory courses on the history of Christianity, Western Civilization, or World History. In surveys of the history of Christianity, Eusebius appears as the primary source for the “Constantinian revolution” or “turn.” In “decline” narratives of late antiquity/the later Roman Empire, Eusebius’ panegyrical works are emblematic of the “orientalization” of the principate, Caesaropapism, and the “Christianization” of the empire. Selections from the final two books of the Ecclesiastical History or the Life of Constantine often appear in anthologies of primary sources, as epitomizing Christianity’s dramatic transformation from persecuted minority to imperial religion, and, hence, affirm triumphalist narratives of Christianity over a dying paganism.

Current trends in the study of Eusebius, as represented by the contributions in this volume, follow, as one would expect, broader paradigm shifts across the humanities. Where scholarship of the twentieth century (the “long” twentieth century, bookended by Burkhardt and Barnes) was concerned in large part on Eusebius’ historical and “Constantinian” works and their place in several classical “tropics” of late-ancient history, contemporary work on Eusebius has turned attention to works that have often stood on the periphery of the Eusebian corpus and situates the man and his works within a number of emerging perspectives.

Eusebius was also genuinely engaged with developments in contemporary philosophy. Scholars have long recognized the prominence of Porphyry of Tyre in Eusebius’ polemics—both as a potent critic of Christian literature and theology and as a useful bogey-man for polemical display—though as Sébastien Morlet and Aaron Johnson have pointed out, one must be careful not to overemphasize Porphyry’s importance in Eusebius’ works. [44] Eusebius clearly possessed a not-insignificant library of Middle- and Neo-Platonic literature. His theology can be read productively as a negotiation of issues of central concern in the Middle and Neoplatonic traditions at the turn of the fourth century. [45] The polemical literature surrounding the Great Persecution and Constantine’s rise to power was also a philosophical literature that engaged issues of philosophical orthodoxy, political philosophy, and ethics. [46] Even if his readings of Plato might seem farfetched to modern sensibilities (e.g. his apologetic claims for Plato’s dependence on the Torah) he was indeed a reader, not a mere quoter, of Plato. The latter books of the Gospel Preparation represent a thoughtful, even if polemical, engagement with the Platonic corpus. [47] In Book 15, for example, Eusebius quotes and comments on a number of Middle- and Neo-Platonic texts that engage Stoic and Peripatetic doctrines concerning the soul, providence, and teleology. Eusebius pays particular attention to several second- and third-century philosophical writers who were likewise standard reading among Plotinus, Porphyry, and their circle, including Numenius, Atticus, Severus, Plutarch, and Alexander of Aphrodisias. [48] Much later, in the early 360s, “that wretched Eusebius” drew the ire of Julian, who had read the latter books of the Preparation. [49] These were “live” philosophical issues in the early fourth century, and Eusebius must be understood not merely as a polemical “quoter” but (like Origen before him) as participating alongside late third- and early fourth-century Platonists in heated debates over the reception of the Peripatetic and Stoic traditions.

Thanks to the (somewhat belated) arrival of the linguistic turn to late-ancient studies, Eusebius’ works are no longer viewed as transparent “evidence” for the reconstruction of late-ancient history, but as complex literary texts that demand discursive and rhetorical analyses. Thus, the new reception of Eusebius is, like Photius’ in the ninth century, literary-critical. Unlike Photius, however, modern scholarship has come to appreciate the importance of Eusebius’ writing in the history of late-ancient literature, specifically, and the history and theory of western literature, more broadly.

Like other learned bishops, Eusebius was a prominent public orator. The “major works” of the Eusebian corpus (e.g. the Life of Constantine, Ecclesiastical History, and Gospel Preparation) suggest a bookish scholar whose work centered on his library. But recent scholarship has given more attention to Eusebius’ performance pieces. The two orations preserved as the Tricennial Oration (for which a new critical edition is in preparation) [50] and the Panegyric on the Building of Churches (delivered publicly at Tyre ca. AD 315) [51] represent the tip of an iceberg of sermonizing and other public oratory. As several of the chapters in this volume make clear, the writing of history was not aimed only (or even primarily) at providing an indelible record of the Christian past. “History” was a tool of suasive rhetoric. Reading works like the Ecclesiastical History and Life of Constantine as “rhetoric,” on the one hand, brings into relief the immediacy and contingency of historical texts, and, on the other hand, as Finn Damgaard’s essay does so effectively, troubles overly simplistic, linear readings of these texts as “propaganda.” Where “propaganda” suggests a clear, hegemonic, unidirectional communication of a specific ideology, “rhetoric” intimates the complex interplay of interests and counter-interests at work in Constantinian panegyric and polemic. In addition, as Kristina Meinking’s essay demonstrates, Eusebius must be contextualized in terms of traditions of political rhetoric flourishing in Greek and Latin at the turn of the fourth century. If, as recent scholarship stresses, the fourth century witnessed a renewed flowering of classicizing rhetoric, a “Third Sophistic,” [52] then Eusebius, along with Lactantius, Constantine (e.g. the Oratio ad Sanctos), Methodius, and others, represent an important, and as yet unstudied, bridge between the second and third Sophistics. Eusebian scholarship seems poised to offer an account of Eusebius the rhetorician.

The Eusebian corpus also offers an excellent case study in various modes of intertextuality. In this volume, the contributions of Corke-Webster, DeVore, Olson, Damgaard, and Schott consider the warp and woof of the many texts within which and out of which Eusebius’ own writing emerged. Theories of intertextuality are decidedly historical, for they emphasize the contingency of all texts within networks of previous and contemporary texts. Thus, Eusebius’ writing becomes more completely legible when located within all of its myriad relationships with the classical texts, other patristic texts, contemporary polemical texts, Jewish texts, and so forth, to which it responds or reacts, upon which it comments, or which it imitates. Studying Eusebius’ writing in terms of “intertextuality,” moreover, presses scholarship beyond traditional heuristics such as “dependence” and “influence.” Theories of intertextuality, unlike models of literary influence or dependence, are non-linear. That is, although the relationships among intertexts are historically contingent, they are not bound to flow in one direction, whether from original to imitation, lemma to commentary, Mishnah to Gemara, and so forth. Thus, as Corke-Webster’s essay demonstrates, Eusebius’ deployment of the “model of the Maccabees” in his constructions of Christian martyrdom in the Ecclesiastical History is not merely a commentary on or a new interpretation of a Maccabean model, but a node at which the texts of 2 and 4 Maccabees, Origen’s Exhortation to Martyrdom, and discourses around the Roman familia converge and diverge.

Importantly, interdisciplinary scholarship on Eusebius that attends to intertextuality, genetic criticism, and the history of the book also prompts us to recognize the contingencies of our own scholarly projects. If Eusebius’ works and the Caesarean library were so axial in mediating “Hellenistic Jewish literature,” “patristic literature,” and so forth—that is, if we know these literatures through Eusebius and Caesarea—then we must attend to the ways in which our own writings of late-ancient Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, the Constantinian Empire, and so forth, are enmeshed within trajectories of Eusebian writing.

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[ back ] 1. Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica 2.4.

[ back ] 2. Jerome (Apology 1.9, trans. NPNF) preserves a short fragment in Latin translation: “What lover of books was there who did not find a friend in Pamphilus? If he knew of any of them being in want of the necessaries of life, he helped them to the full extent of his power. He would not only lend them copies of the Holy Scriptures to read, but would give them most readily, and that not only to men, but to women also if he saw that they were given to reading. He therefore kept a store of manuscripts, so that he might be able to give them to those who wished for them whenever occasion demanded. He himself, however, wrote nothing whatever of his own, except private letters which he sent to his friends, so humble was his estimate of himself. But the treatises of the old writers he studied with the greatest diligence, and was constantly occupied in meditation upon them.”

[ back ] 3. Philostrogius, Historia Ecclesiastica 1.2, trans. Amidon 2007.

[ back ] 4. Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica 2.21, trans. NPNF.

[ back ] 5. Trans. Whitby 2000.

[ back ] 6. Rufinus remarks on this explicitly in the preface to his translation of the HE: “Now it should be noted that since the tenth book of this work (i.e. the HE) has very little history in it, all the rest of it being taken up with bishops’ panegyrics (e.g. Eusebius’ own Panegyric on the Building of Churches, which comprises much of the tenth book) which added nothing to our knowledge of the facts, we have omitted what seemed superfluous and joined what history there was in it to the ninth book” (trans. Amidon 1997).

[ back ] 7. Eusebius describes this as a key feature of his work in HE 1.1; 5.

[ back ] 8. Athanasius, De Decretis 3.

[ back ] 9. On the use/rejection of Eusebius’ Letter to Constantia as a patristic authority on icons see the pertinent portions of the Acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council: Eusebius quoted by iconoclasts as authority (253A), quotation and refutation of Letter to Constantia (313A–317D) (trans. Sahas 1986). The Greek text of Nicephorus’ polemic is in Pitra 1852:383–386. Annette von Stockhausen has published a new edition of the fragments of the Letter to Constantia (von Stockhausen 2002:92–105). The fragments of the letter are available in English translation in Mango 1972:16–18.

[ back ] 10. Jerome, De viris inlustribus 81, trans. NPNF.

[ back ] 11. Jerome reports that Acacius and Euzoius, Eusebius’ immediate successors, “with great pains attempted to restore on parchments [i.e. in parchment codex form] the library, collected by Origen and Pamphilus, which had already suffered injury (plurimo labore corruptam iam bibliothecam Origenis et Pamphili in membranis instaurare conatus est)” (De viris inlustribus 113, trans. NPNF, slightly modified). In De viris inlustribus, Jerome mentions only Euzoius as renewing the library, but in a nearly identical sentence in Letter 34.1, he mentions both Acacius and Euzoius (quam ex parte corruptam Acacius, dehinc Euzoius, eiusdem ecclesiae sacerdotes, in membranis instaurare conati sunt). On these passages, see the discussion in Carriker 2003:23–27.

[ back ] 12. Jerome, De viris inlustribus 75, trans. NPNF. The phrase manu eius exarata repperi need not imply that Jerome obtained a copy written in Pamphilus’ own hand; rather, Jerome likely means that he has obtained a copy of the work made from an exemplar held in the library of Caesarea. The book Jerome describes was likely an exemplar in the library at Caesarea with a colophon similar to that transmitted, for example, at the conclusion of Esther in Codex Sinaiticus: “Collated and corrected against the Hexapla of Origen, as corrected by him. Antoninus the Confessor collated. Pamphilus corrected the volume in prison”; see also Carriker 2003:14–15. It is unlikely, in fact, that Pamphilus would literally have inked the page in his own hand (such work would have been done by professional scribes, or Pamphilus’ amanuensis).

[ back ] 13. “Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, as I have already said before, who was in his day the standard bearer of the Arian faction, wrote a large and elaborate work in six books in defense of Origen, showing by many testimonies that Origen was in his sense a catholic, that is, in our sense, an Arian” (Jerome, Apology 1.8, trans. NPNF).

[ back ] 14. Jerome, Apology 2.16, trans. NPNF.

[ back ] 15. Vessey 1993:135–145.

[ back ] 16. Jerome, Letter 84.2, trans. NPNF.

[ back ] 17. Bibliotheca 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 27, 39, 118, and 127, respectively.

[ back ] 18. Bibliotheca 13.

[ back ] 19. Bibliotheca 13.

[ back ] 20. The passages Photius has in mind are Life of Constantine 3.59.1–63.1 (Eustathius) and 4.41.1–48.1 (Council of Tyre/Dedication of Church of the Holy Sepulchre/investigation of Athanasius).

[ back ] 21. Eusebius and Eustathius published polemics against one another as part of the dispute (Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica 1.23, where Socrates likewise notes that Eusebius was accused of dissimulation in his account of Eustathius’ deposition).

[ back ] 22. See for example the commentary in Cameron and Hall 1999:305–306; 328–330.

[ back ] 23. See Carriker 2003 for a reconstruction of Eusebius’ library.

[ back ] 24. HE 5.16–19.

[ back ] 25. HE 1.1.1.

[ back ] 26. Zamagni 2009; Miller et al. 2010 is based on Zamagni’s edition and includes Syriac, Arabic, Latin, and Coptic fragments.

[ back ] 27. Translations of both texts are being prepared by Kelley Spoerl. An Italian translation of De Ecclesiastica Theologia is available (Migliore 1998).

[ back ] 28. As of this writing, an English translation by Jonathan Armstrong is scheduled to appear in Intervarsity Press’s Ancient Christian Texts series (, accessed June 5, 2012).

[ back ] 29. Edition, commentary, and French translation in Junod and Amacker 2002. Edition, commentary , and German translation in Röwekamp 2005. English translation and introduction in Scheck 2010.

[ back ] 30. Morlet and Perrone 2012.

[ back ] 31. On the Gospel Demonstration see the extensive new monograph by Sébastien Morlet (Morlet 2009).

[ back ] 32. For an excellent summary of the significance of recent archaeological research on Caesarea see Patrich 2011:1–24.

[ back ] 33. Holum and Lehman 2000. Though somewhat dated, the most comprehensive study of religious and ethnic diversity in Caesarea remains Levine 1975; Levine does an excellent job of collecting many anecdotes concerning Caesarea from a wide range of literary, archaeological, and documentary sources. On the Jewish population of Caesarea, including helpful summaries of Talmudic material pertaining to Caesarea, see: Levine, 1975:56–76 and Levine 1992:268–273. On the question of mulitlinguism in Caesarea, see Geiger 2001:27–36 and Geiger 1996:39–57.

[ back ] 34. Patrich 2002:321–346.

[ back ] 35. See, for example, Antoninus of Placentia, Itinerarium 45 (CCSL 175:174), on the martyrium of Pamphilus.

[ back ] 36. As witnessed, for example, by the title of the “Eusebius” chapter in the recent Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature (Louth 2004:266–274, though the essay does contextualize Eusebius as a scholar trained in exegesis).

[ back ] 37. As recognized by Lorenzo Perrone (Perrone 2005:413–429, an introductory essay that does justice to the range of Eusebius’ literary corpus).

[ back ] 38. Johnson 2011:99–118; Penland 2011:87–98.

[ back ] 39. Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica 2.9 (according to Socrates he was also taught by Eusebius’ ally Patrophilus of Scythopolis).

[ back ] 40. The dating of many of Eusebius’ best-known works hinges on making sense of the publication history of the Chronicle and Ecclesiastical History. The trajectory of scholarship on dating these works can be traced in the following articles: Barnes 1980:191–201 (where Barnes’ makes his well-know argument for an early date of the first edition of the HE), Louth 1990:111–123, and Burgess 1997:471–504 (where Burgess makes a convincing argument for a first edition of the HE in 313 and a second edition upon the accession of Constantine in 325). The Gospel Preparation and Gospel Demonstration were begun in the aftermath of Licinius’ victory over Maximinus Daia in 313 (e.g. PE 4.2.11, where Eusebius mentions the execution of the curator of Antioch, Theotecnus, for his role in the persecution under Maximinus).

[ back ] 41. A comprehensive reconsideration of Eusebius’ theology throughout his extant works remains to be written. Luibhéid 1981 remains an excellent study, though it evaluates Eusebius primarily in the terms of Nicene and post-Nicene theology.

[ back ] 42. Irshai 2011:25–38; Parvis 2006; Gwynn 2006; DelCogliano 2008:250–266; Bardy 1922:35–45.

[ back ] 43. He presided at the Synod of Antioch (ca. AD 328), where he declined election to the See of Antioch, and at the Synod of Tyre (AD 335) that deposed Athanasius (Eusebius’ presidency is clearly implied by Epiphanius, Panarion 68.8.2); for a recent detailed reconstruction of the complex chain of events surrounding these depositions, see Parvis 2006.

[ back ] 44. Morlet 2011:119–150; Johnson 2010: 53-58.

[ back ] 45. Strutwolf 1999.

[ back ] 46. Recognized increasingly in studies of philosophy, literature, and politics under the Tetrarchs and Constantine, see, for example, Drake 2000; Digeser 2000 and Digeser 2012; Schott 2008.

[ back ] 47. Des Places 1982; Schott 2003:501–531.

[ back ] 48. Compare, for example, Porphyry’s list of authors commonly read in Plotinus’ circle (Life of Plotinus 14) with the works quoted by Eusebius in the Gospel Preparation.

[ back ] 49. Julian, Against the Galilaeans in Cyril of Alexandria, Against Julian 221E–224E.

[ back ] 50. By Harold Drake, to appear in the series Die Griechischen Christlichen Schrifsteller as Eusebius 1. 2: Rede an die Heilige Versammlung. Tricennatsrede, updating the previous edition by I.A. Heikel in the same series (, accessed 5 June, 2012).

[ back ] 51. On the Tyrian oration, see Smith 1989:226–247 and Schott 2011:177–198. For an earlier dating of the Oration at Tyre, see Amerise 2008:229–234.

[ back ] 52. On the “Third Sophistic” as a renewed (or, in other estimations, ongoing) classicizing aesthetic and cultural phenomenon in fourth-century rhetoric see, for example: Quiroga 2007:31–42; Van Hoof 2010:211–224.

[ back ] 53. Inowlocki 2006.

[ back ] 54. Inowlocki 2011:199–224.

[ back ] 55. Grafton and Williams 2006.

[ back ] 56. Both book history and genetic criticism have their origins in French literary theory and criticism, but have come into their own in the Anglophone humanities in the past two decades. The literature on both of these scholarly trajectories is vast; good introductions to theory and methodology in book history include: Febvre and Martin 1976, Cavallo and Chartier 1999, Chartier 1994. For an excellent introduction to genetic criticism, see the “Introduction” and collected essays in Deppman et al. 2004.

[ back ] 57. The earliest extant fragment of the HE is PBerl. Inv. 17076, a papyrus fragment dated paleographically to the fourth century and containing HE 6.43.7–8.11–12. The earliest extant complete manuscript of the HE is Codex Syriac 1, housed in the National Library of Russia, St. Petersburg, which contains a subscription dating it to AD 462. British Lib. Add. 14639 contains books 1–5 of the HE and dates to the sixth century. The Syriac versions of the Martyrs of Palestine and Theophany are very early (AD 411) and are included in British Lib. Add. 12150, an important manuscript that also contains the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitiones and Titus of Bostra, Against the Manichaeans.

[ back ] 58. See Cassin, Debié, and Perrin 2012:185–206 for an example of an essay that treats the problem of the textual history of the HE in all its text-critical and genetic-critical complexity.

[ back ] 59. Humphries 2008:143–164; Christensen 1989. Redactional aspects of the Syriac version are noted by Wright and McLean 1898:ix–x, but a detailed analysis study of the redactional habits of the Syriac version is a desideratum.

[ back ] 60. Reynolds and Wilson 1991:57.

[ back ] 61. Des Places 1957.