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E01766: Gregory of Nyssa, in his Letter 22 of the 380s, to Amphilochios of Iconium, requests his assistance with finding builders for the construction of a martyr-church (martyrion). He gives a detailed description of the building. Written in Greek in Cappadocia (central Asia Minor).

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posted on 25.07.2016, 00:00 by Bryan
Gregory of Nyssa, Letters (CPG 3167), Letter 22

22. Ἀμφιλοχίῳ

Ἤδη μοι πέπεισμαι κατορθώσασθαι κατὰ θεοῦ χάριν τὴν ἐπὶ τῷ μαρτυρίῳ σπουδήν. θελήσειας· πέρας τὸ σπουδαζόμενον ἕξει τῇ δυνάμει τοῦ θεοῦ ἔργον ποιῆσαι δυναμένου τὸν λόγον ᾗ ἂν εἴπῃ. ἐπειδή, καθώς φησιν ὁ ἀπόστολος, Ὁ ἐναρξάμενος ἔργον ἀγαθὸν καὶ ἐπιτελέσει, παρακλήθητι καὶ ἐν τούτῳ μιμητὴς γενέσθαι τοῦ μεγάλου Παύλου καὶ εἰς ἔργον ἡμῖν προαγαγεῖν τὰς ἐλπίδας καὶ τεχνίτας ἡμῖν τοσούτους πέμψαι, ὥστε ἱκανοὺς πρὸς τὸ ἔργον εἶναι. γένοιτο δ’ ἂν ἐκ συλλογισμοῦ τῇ τελειότητί σου γνώριμον εἰς ὅσον μέτρον ἅπαν τὸ ἔργον συλλογισθήσεται· οὗ χάριν φανεράν σοι ποιῆσαι πειράσομαι πᾶσαν τὴν κατασκευὴν διὰ τῆς τοῦ λόγου γραφῆς.


Σταυρός ἐστι τοῦ εὐκτηρίου τὸ σχῆμα τέσσαρσιν, ὡς εἰκός, οἴκοις ἁπανταχόθεν ἀναπληρούμενος· ἀλλὰ καταλαμβάνουσιν ἀλλήλας αἱ συμβολαὶ τῶν οἴκων, ὥσπερ ὁρῶμεν πανταχοῦ ἐν τῷ σταυροειδεῖ τύπῳ γινόμενον. ἀλλ’ ἔγκειται τῷ σταυρῷ κύκλος ὀκτὼ γωνίαις διειλημμένος· κύκλον δὲ διὰ τὸ περιφερὲς ὠνόμασα τὸ ὀκτάγωνον σχῆμα, ὥστε τὰς τέσσαρας τοῦ ὀκταγώνου πλευρὰς τὰς ἐκ διαμέτρων ἀλλήλαις ἀντικειμένας δι’ ἁψίδων τοῖς τετραχῇ παρακειμένοις οἴκοις τὸν ἐν τῷ μέσῳ συνάπτειν κύκλον. αἱ δὲ ἄλλαι τέσσαρες τοῦ ὀκταγώνου πλευραὶ αἱ μεταξὺ τῶν τετραγώνων οἴκων διήκουσαι, οὐδὲ αὐταὶ κατὰ τὸ συνεχὲς εἰς οἴκους ἀποταθήσονται, ἀλλ’ ἑκάστῃ τούτων ἡμικύκλιον περικείσεται κοχλοειδῶς κατὰ τὸ ἄνω ἐπὶ ἁψῖδος ἀναπαυόμενον· ὥστε ὀκτὼ γενέσθαι ἁψῖδας τὰς πάσας, δι’ ὧν ἐκ παραλλήλου τὰ τετράγωνά τε καὶ ἡμικύκλια πρὸς τὸ μέσον τὴν συνάφειαν ἕξει. ἔσωθεν δὲ τῶν διαγωνίων πεσσῶν ἰσάριθμοι παραστήσονται κίονες εὐκοσμίας τε καὶ ἰσχύος χάριν· ἀνέξουσι δὲ καὶ οὗτοι ὑπὲρ ἑαυτῶν ἁψῖδας ταῖς ἔξωθεν δι’ ἴσου συγκατεσκευασμένας. ἄνω δὲ τῶν ὀκτὼ τούτων ἁψίδων διὰ τὴν συμμετρίαν τῶν ὑπερκειμένων θυρίδων ὁ ὀκτάγωνος οἶκος ἐπὶ τέσσαρας αὐξηθήσεται πήχεις. τὸ δὲ ἀπ’ ἐκείνου στρόβιλος ἔσται κωνοειδής, τῆς εἱλήσεως τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ ὀρόφου ἐκ πλατέος εἰς ὀξὺν σφῆνα κατακλειούσης. διάστημα δὲ κατὰ τὸ πλάτος ἑκάστου τῶν τετραγώνων οἴκων ὀκτὼ πήχεις ἔσται, ἡμιολίῳ δὲ πλέον εἰς τὸ μῆκος, ὕψος δὲ ὅσον ἡ ἀναλογία τοῦ πλάτους βούλεται. τοσοῦτον ἔσται καὶ ἐπὶ <τῶν> ἡμικυκλίων· ὡσαύτως ὅλον μὲν εἰς ὀκτὼ πήχεις τὸ μεταξὺ τῶν πεσσῶν διαμετρεῖται· ὅσον δὲ δώσει ἡ τοῦ διαβήτου περιγραφή, ἐν τῷ μέσῳ τῆς πλευρᾶς πηγνυμένου τοῦ κέντρου καὶ ἐπὶ τὸ ἄκρον αὐτῆς διαβαίνοντος, τοσοῦτον πλάτος ἕξει· τὸ δὲ ὕψος ἡ ἀναλογία τοῦ πλάτους καὶ ἐπὶ τούτων ποιήσει. τὸ δὲ τοῦ τοίχου βάθος ἔξωθεν τῶν κατὰ τὸ ἐντὸς μεμετρημένων διαστημάτων, <ὂν> τριῶν ποδῶν, ὅλον περιδραμεῖται τὸ ἔργον.


Ταῦτά σου τῆς ἀγαθότητος μετὰ σπουδῆς κατελήρησα τοῦτον ἔχων σκοπόν, ὥστε σε διά τε τοῦ βάθους τῶν τοίχων καὶ διὰ τῶν ἐν μέσῳ διαστημάτων ἐπιγνῶναι δι’ ἀκριβείας εἰς ὅ τι κεφαλαιοῦται μέτρον ὁ τῶν ποδῶν ἀριθμός· διότι περιδέξιός ἐστί σοι πάντως ἡ φρόνησις, ὅπουπερ ἂν θέλῃς, ἐν ἐκείνῳ κατὰ θεοῦ χάριν εὐοδουμένη, καὶ δυνατὸν ἔσται σοι διὰ τῆς κατὰ λεπτὸν συναριθμήσεως ἐπιγνῶναι τὸ συναθροιζόμενον ἐκ πάντων κεφάλαιον, ὡς μήτε πλείονας μήτε ἐνδέοντας τῆς χρείας ἡμῖν τοὺς οἰκοδόμους ἐκπέμψαι. τούτου δὲ μάλιστα παρακλήθητι πολλὴν ποιή-
σασθαι τὴν φροντίδα, ὡς εἶναί τινας ἐξ αὐτῶν καὶ τὴν ἀνυπόσκευον εἵλησιν ἐπισταμένους· ἔμαθον γὰρ ὅτι τοιοῦτο γινόμενον μονιμώτερόν ἐστι τοῦ ἐπαναπαυομένου τοῖς ὑπερείδουσιν· ἡ γὰρ τῶν ξύλων σπάνις εἰς ταύτην ἄγει ἡμᾶς τὴν ἐπίνοιαν, ὥστε λίθοις ἐρέψαι τὸ οἰκοδόμημα ὅλον διὰ τὸ μὴ παρεῖναι τοῖς τόποις ἐρέψιμον ὕλην. πεπείσθω δὲ ἡ ἀψευδής σου ψυχὴ ὅτι τῶν ἐνταῦθά τινες τριάκοντά μοι τεχνίτας συνέθεντο εἰς τὸν χρύσινον ἐπὶ τῷ τετραπεδικῷ ἔργῳ, δηλαδὴ καὶ τῆς τετυπωμένης τροφῆς τῷ χρυσίνῳ ἀκολουθούσης· ἡμῖν δὲ ἡ τοιαύτη τῶν λίθων οὐ πάρεστιν, ἀλλ’ ὀστρακίνη πλίνθος ὕλη τοῦ οἰκοδομήματος ἔσται καὶ οἱ ἐπιτυχόντες λίθοι, ὡς μὴ εἶναι αὐτοῖς ἀνάγκην τρίβειν τὸν χρόνον ἐν τῷ τὰ μέτωπα τῶν λίθων συγχέειν ἐναρμονίως πρὸς ἄλληλα. ἐγὼ δὲ κατὰ τὴν τέχνην καὶ τὴν περὶ τὸν μισθὸν εὐγνωμοσύνην ἐπίσταμαι τοὺς αὐτόθεν κρείττους εἶναι τῶν ἐνταῦθα κατεμπορευομένων τῆς χρείας ἡμῶν. τὸ δὲ τῶν λαοξόων ἔργον οὐ μόνον ἐν τοῖς κίοσίν ἐστι τοῖς ὀκτώ, οὓς χρὴ αὐτοὺς τῷ καλλωπισμῷ βελτιῶσαι, ἀλλὰ βωμοειδεῖς σπείρας ἀπαιτεῖ τὸ ἔργον καὶ κεφαλίδας διαγλύφους κατὰ τὸ Κορίνθιον εἶδος. καὶ εἴσοδος ἐκ μαρμάρων τῷ καθήκοντι κόσμῳ κατειργασμένων, <καὶ> καθυπερκείμενα τούτων θυρώματα τοιαύταις γραφαῖς τισι, καθὼς ἔθος ἐστίν, εἰς κάλλος κατὰ τὴν τοῦ γεισίου προβολὴν ἐξησκημένα—ὧν πάντων αἱ μὲν ὕλαι δῆλον ὅτι παρ’ ἡμῶν πορισθήσονται, τὸ δὲ ἐπὶ τῇ ὕλῃ εἶδος ἡ τέχνη δώσει, —πρὸς τούτοις δὲ καὶ κατὰ τὸ περίστῳον κίονες, οὐχ ἥττους ὄντες τῶν τεσσαράκοντα, λαοξικὸν ἔργον καὶ οὗτοι πάντως εἰσίν.

Εἰ τοίνυν ἐνέφηνεν ὁ λόγος δι’ ἀκριβείας τὸ ἔργον, δυνατὸν ἂν γένοιτό σου τῇ ὁσιότητι κατιδούσῃ τὴν χρείαν διὰ πάντων ἡμῖν παρασχεῖν τὸ ἐπὶ τοῖς τεχνίταις ἀμέριμνον. εἰ δὲ μέλλοι τὸ πρὸς ἡμῶν ὁ τεχνίτης συντίθεσθαι, προσκείσθω, εἴπερ οἷόν τε, φανερὸν μέτρον τοῦ ἔργου τῇ ἡμέρᾳ, ἵνα μή, ἄπρακτος παρελθὼν τὸν χρόνον, μετὰ ταῦτα μὴ ἔχων ἐπιδεῖξαι τὸ ἔργον, ὡς τοσαύταις ἡμέραις ἡμῖν ἐργασάμενος τὸν ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν μισθὸν ἀπαιτῇ. οἶδα δ’ ὅτι μικρολόγοι τινὲς τοῖς πολλοῖς δόξομεν, οὕτω περὶ τὰς συνθήκας διακριβούμενοι· ἀλλὰ παρακλήθητι συγγνώμην ἔχειν· ὁ γὰρ Μαμωνᾶς ἐκεῖνος, πολλὰ πολλάκις παρ’ ἡμῶν ἀκούσας κακῶς, τέλος ἀπῴκισεν ἑαυτὸν ἡμῶν ὡς πορρωτάτω, μισήσας οἶμαι τὴν ἀεὶ γινομένην κατ’ αὐτοῦ φλυαρίαν, καί τινι χάσματι ἀδιαβάτῳ, τῇ πενίᾳ λέγω, ἑαυτὸν ἡμῶν διετείχισεν, ὡς μήτε ἐκεῖνον πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἐλθεῖν μήτε ἡμᾶς πρὸς ἐκεῖνον διαπερᾶσαι. τούτου χάριν περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῦμαι τὴν εὐγνωμοσύνην τῶν τεχνιτῶν, ὥστε δυνηθῆναι πρὸς τὴν προκειμένην ἡμᾶς ἐξαρκέσαι σπουδὴν μὴ κωλυθέντας τῇ πενίᾳ, τῷ ἐπαινετῷ καὶ εὐκταίῳ κακῷ. ἀλλὰ τούτοις μέν τι καὶ παιδιᾶς καταμέμικται· σὺ δέ μοι, ὦ ἄνθρωπε τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅπως ἂν δυνατὸν καὶ νενομισμένον ᾖ, οὕτω τοῖς ἀνθρώποις συνθέμενος θαρρῶν ἐπάγγειλαι πᾶσιν αὐτοῖς τὴν παρ’ ἡμῶν εὐγνωμοσύνην καὶ τὴν τῶν μισθῶν ἀποπλήρωσιν· δώσομεν γὰρ ἀνελλιπῶς τὰ πάντα, τοῦ θεοῦ διὰ τῶν σῶν εὐχῶν καὶ ἡμῖν τὴν χεῖρα τῆς εὐλογίας ἀνοίγοντος.


‘To Amphilochios

I am confident that, by the grace of God, my plan for the martyrion is on a good path. May you be willing in the matter! The planned project will be accomplished by the power of God, who can accomplish his word as he may say. The Apostle says, He which hath begun a good work will perform it [Philip. 1:6]: I therefore beseech you to imitate the great Paul also in this, and to turn our hopes into reality, sending us as many craftsmen as required for the work. The dimensions the whole work is going to reach should become clear to your Perfection by a calculation. For this purpose, I shall try to set forth the whole construction for you, by a description.

The shape of the prayer house is a cross, consisting, naturally, of four compartments on all sides. Yet the corners of these compartments are joined to each other, as we normally see it done in the cruciform plan, but the cross encapsulates a circle divided by eight angles (I call the octagonal shape a circle, because it is circumferential), in such a way that four of the sides of the octagon, diametrically opposed to one another, connect the four adjoining rooms to the central circle, through arches. As for the other four sides of the octagon, which intervene between the rectangular compartments, they will not similarly extend into quadrilateral rooms, but each one of them will be engulfed by a semicircle topped by a conch-like shape leaning on an arch. Thus, all together, there will be eight arches, by means of which squares and semicircles, placed parallelwise, will be conjoined to the central space. Against the inner face of the corner pillars, an equal number of columns will be set up, both for decoration and strengthening. These will also carry arches built in a similar manner as the outer ones. Above these eight arches, the octagonal hall will be raised four cubits, according to the size of the upper windows. Above that height, there will be a conical funnel, as the vaulting will narrow the form of the ceiling from a wide span to a pointed wedge. The width of each of the square compartments will be eight cubits, their length greater by one half, their height proportioned to the width. The same width will apply to the semicircles: once again, the distance between corner pillars is to be measured at eight cubits; it will obtain as much depth as inscribed by the turning of the compasses, with its point fixed in the centre of the side, and extending to its end. Here also, the height will be defined in proportion to the width. The thickness of the wall encompassing the whole structure will be three feet, external to the inner measurements.

I have inflicted all this verbiage on your goodness for this purpose, namely that, based on the thickness of the walls and the intervening spaces, you may be able to calculate the total number of feet with accuracy. Because you surely have a skilful mind, which succeeds by God’s grace in whatever task you please to undertake, and it will be possible for you, based on a detailed enumeration, to reckon the sum of all the elements, so that you may dispatch to us no more and no fewer masons than we need. Please, take great care that some of them should be expert in uncentred vaulting, for I am informed that it is more durable when made like this, than the one which rests on supports. What leads us to this solution is the scarcity of wood, and so we shall roof the whole building with stone, since the region has no timber appropriate for roof-building. Let your truthful spirit believe me that, for squared masonry building work, some of the locals have offered me thirty craftsmen for a gold piece, with the stipulated food ration, of course, supplied extra to the gold payment. Yet we have no stone of the appropriate kind, and so the building material will be clay bricks and whatever stones may be available. Thus they will not need to spend their time fitting the faces of the stone-blocks harmoniously to each other. Now, I know that, with regard to both skill and reason in pricin

History

Evidence ID

E01766

Saint Name

Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060 Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, ob. early 4th c. : S00103

Image Caption 1

Reconstruction of the martyrium, according to Gregory’s description. [Plan by M. Villegas in M. Restle, Studien zur frühbyzantinischen Architektur Kappadokiens, plan 58].

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

380

Evidence not after

390

Activity not before

380

Activity not after

390

Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Nȳsa

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Nȳsa Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Nyssa

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Source

Gregory of Nyssa was born in the late 330s as one of the youngest of a leading Christian family of Cappadocia. His siblings included important figures of church life, namely Basil of Caesarea, the ascetic Makrina the Younger, and Peter of Sebaste. Gregory was trained in philosophy and rhetoric mainly by his brother Basil, who, in 371 or 372, ordained him bishop of the Cappadocian township of Nyssa. In 376, Gregory was deposed from his see, to which he was able to return in 378, and, from then onwards, he was one of the protagonists of church politics in the East Roman Empire. He played an important role during the Council of Constantinople (381) and was very close to the imperial family of Theodosius I. He was sent on missions to Armenia and Arabia in order settle problems in local churches. Gregory died after 394. He left a large literary heritage of philosophical, theological, ascetical, catechetical and homiletic works. On the manuscript tradition of this letter, see: Maraval 1990; Silvas 2007.

Discussion

Written probably in the 380s, this letter is addressed to Gregory’s friend, Amphilochios, bishop of Iconium, and cousin of Gregory of Nazianzus. The text is one of the most detailed surviving descriptions of the architecture of a martyrion-shrine, offering insights into the plan of the building, and the management of its construction. In the last paragraph, Gregory admits in a humourous way his preoccupation with the expenses the work will entail, because of his financial hardship (reference to Mammon and allusion to Matthew 6.24). It is unknown where Gregory was planning to build the shrine and to which martyr(s) he intended to dedicate it: the possibilities are that it was either planned to be erected at his episcopal see of Nyssa, or on his private estate near Ibora of Pontus. It is possible that the building described here was planned to replace the pre-existing chapel of the *Forty Martyrs at Gregory’s estate, which housed the tomb of the author's parents and sister, and a quantity of relics of the saints (E01299). Gregory’s description allows a reconstruction of the building, which has been attempted by several scholars, notably Restle (see figure), Klock, and Thierry. Octagonal plans are attested in Christian architecture of the late 4th and 5th centuries in Anatolia, but perhaps the closest example to the plan described by Gregory is the now lost church 8 of Binbirkilise (ancient Barata in Lycaonia) which was recorded by Gertrude Bell and William Ramsay. A comparable plan may also be recognised in the octagonal martyrion of Hierapolis in Phrygia and the mausoleum of Sant’ Aquilino, attached to the church of San Lorenzo in Milan. Central plans (circular or polygonal) were widely used in the architecture of Christian commemoration shrines (martyria) since the age of Constantine, but it is doubtful if they were exclusively or mainly reserved to them (Grabar 1943-1946). Gregory of Nazianzus reports that his father built an octagonal church for his community (Oration 18. 39). It is unknown if that reportedly congregational church was the martyrion of the private estate of Gregory’s family in Karbalē, near Nazianzus, which Gregory mentions in his letter 203 (see E01908). The building of shrines for martyrs on the grounds of private estates is widely attested in the correspondence and other writings of the Cappadocian Fathers (E01833, E00399, E01299).

Bibliography

Text and French translation: Maraval, P., Grégoire de Nysse ; introduction, texte critique, traduction, notes et index. Sources chrétiennes 363. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1990, 288-301. English Translations: Mango, Cyril. The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453: Sources and Documents. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986, 27-29. Silvas, A. M. Gregory of Nyssa. The Letters: Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 83. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2007, 196-202 (with commentary and bilbiography). German translation: Teske D., Gregor von Nyssa, Briefe. Bibliothek der griechischen Literatur 43. Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1997. Further reading: Grabar, A., Martyrium. Recherches sur le culte des reliques et l'art chrétien antique, Paris, College de France, 1943-1946. Klock, C., ‘Architektur im Dienste der Heiligenverehrung: Gregor von Nyssa als Kirchenbauer (Ep. 25)’, The Biographical Works of Gregory of Nyssa, Proceedings of the Fifth International Colloquium on Gregory of Nyssa, ed. Andreas von Spira (Cambridge Mass., 1984), 161– 180. Limberis, V., Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 68-96 (with earlier bibliography). Restle, M., Studien zur frühbizantinischen Architecture Kappadokiens, Kommission für die Tabula Imperii Byzantini, Band 3, Wien: Österreischiche Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1979, 75-80. Thierry, N., La Cappadoce de l’antiquité au Moyen Âge, Turnhout: Brepols, 2002, 85. On Gregory of Nyssa: Dörrie, H. “Gregor III,” in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 12 (1983), 863-895. Maraval, P. ‘Grégoire, évêque de Nysse’, in Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 22 (1988): 20–4. Radde-Gallwitz, A. "The Letter Collection of Gregory of Nyssa." In Late Antique Letter Collections. A Critical Introduction and Reference Guide, edited by Cristiana Sogno, Bradley K. Storin and Edward Watts, 102-112. Oakland: University of California Press, 2017. Silvas, A. M. Gregory of Nyssa. The Letters: Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 83. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2007, 1-57.

Continued Description

g, the workers in your region are better than the ones we have here, who try to take advantage of our need. The stonecutters’ job concerns not only the eight columns, which need to be beautified with adornment, but the construction also requires moulded bases on pedestals and sculpted capitals of the Corinthian style. There will also be a porch of marble in suitably ornamental arrangement, and, over these, door-frames adorned with engravings of kind normally used for beautifying the mouldings of the entablature. Obviously, the materials for all these things will be provided by us, while art will give form to the material. In addition, there will also be no less than forty columns in the surrounding portico. These are also a stonecutting job, of course. Now if my account has described the work accurately, it should be possible for your sanctity, having a clear picture of what is needed, to free us from every concern about the craftsmen. If a craftsman is to contract with us, let there be fixed, as far as possible, a clear measure of a day’s work, lest he passes his time idly, and then demands payment for having worked for us for so many days, even though he has no work to show. I know that many will find us somewhat fussy in being so particular about the contracts, but please understand, because that Mammon [Mt 6.24], who has been so badly maligned by me so many times, has finally retired as far from me as he can, being fed up, I suppose, with the constant babbling I direct against him, and has fortified himself against me by an impassable gulf, i.e. poverty, so that neither can he come to me, nor can I pass over to him [Lk 16.26]. That is why I am so preoccupied with the reliability of the craftsmen, in order to be able to accomplish the task before us without being hindered by poverty, that laudable and desirable evil. There is in all this, of course, a certain element of jest. As for you, o man of God, negotiate with the people, to the best of your ability and judgement, and confidently reassure them about our reliability and the payment of their wages. We shall indeed pay everything without fail, provided that, by your prayers, God keeps open also for us the hand of his blessing.’Text: Maraval 1990Translation: E. Rizos.

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