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Onomancy: A Forbidden Art of the Ars Notoria, Part II

As mentioned in the previous post, onomancy (Greek ὄνομαμᾰντείᾱ; Latin onomamanteia) is the divinatory practice of taking the letters of a person’s name, converting each letter into a numerical value, and then applying certain algorithms to achieve a numerical result, which is then interpreted to assess a person’s fortune. Both genethlialogy (i.e., natal astrology) and onomancy were interlinked in the body of medieval and astrological literature. This article has two parts. The first part will focus on those onomantic calcuations described by the Roman bishop Hippolytus (170-235 CE) in his Refutation of All Heresies (also called the Elenchus or Philosophumena), book IV, chapter 14. The second part will provide those prognostications involving the fate of a sick person which are found in the Syriac Book of Medicines.


The Syriac Book of Medicines, originally written in Greek then translated into Syriac during the early centuries of the Christian era, contains a number of onomantic prognostications. These prognostications have been translated into English by E.A. Wallis Budge (1913). Budge dates the book to the twelfth century, although the contemporary scholar Grigory Kessel claims that the book is comprised of three separate texts. The first text deals with Galenic medicine, the second is about medical astrology and divination (including onomancy), and the third is a plethora of recipes based on natural properties or magical power. The following divination material is drawn and reorganized from this second text and presented here.


Part I: Onomantic Calculations


Greek Pythmenes


To begin, it is necessary to establish the kinds of calculations which appear frequently in onomancy. Firstly, the Greek arithmetical procedure called pythmenes (“digital roots”) operates according to the radix of the decimal system (the ten digits of 0 through 9) in which a single digit sum is reached by an iterative process of summing digits, ignoring magnitude, until a single digit is reached. For example, in base 10, the digital root of the number 159 is 6 because the sum of the digits in this number is 1 + 5 + 9 = 15, then the addition process is repeated again for the resulting number 15, so that the sum of 1 + 5 = 6, which is the digital root of that number.


Hippolytus explains it thus:


“Those, then, who suppose that they prophesy by means of calculations and numbers, and elements and names, constitute the origin of their attempted system to be as follows. They affirm that there is a root of each of the numbers; in the case of thousands, so many monads as there are thousands: for example, the root of six thousand, six monads; of seven thousand, seven monads; of eight thousand, eight monads; and in the case of the rest, in like manner, according to the same (proportion). And in the case of hundreds, as many hundreds as there are, so many monads are the root of them: for instance, of seven hundred there are seven hundreds; the root of these is seven monads: of six hundred, six hundreds; the root of these, six monads. And it is similar respecting decades: for of eighty (the root is) eight monads; and of sixty, six monads; of forty, four monads; of ten, one monad. And in the case of monads, the monads themselves are a root: for instance, of nine, nine; of eight, eight; of seven, seven. Those, then, that conduct their calculations according to the rule of the number nine, take the ninth part of the aggregate number of roots, and define what is left over as the sum of the roots.”


Greek Isopsephy


Now the Greek alphabet has assigned numerical values of its twenty-four letters which is called isopsephy. For example, alpha = 1, beta = 2, gamma = 3, and so on to theta which equals 9. Next, iota = 10, kappa = 20, lambda = 30, and so on to koppa which equals 90. Finally, rho = 100, sigma = 200, tau = 300, and so on to omega as 800 and sampi as 900. Other alphabets which have numerical values for each of their own letters include Hebrew and Arabic. Latin does not follow these alphabets in the same way.


Hippolytus explains the relationship between Greek letters and their numerical value thus, providing an example with the name Agamemnon:


“In this way, also, ought we therefore to act in the case of the elements (of words), for each letter has been arranged according to a certain number: for instance, the letter n according to fifty monads; but of fifty monads five is the root, and the root of the letter n is (therefore) five. Grant that from some name we take certain roots of it. For instance, (from) the name Agamemnon, there is of the a, one monad; and of the g, three monads; and of the other a, one monad; of the m, four monads; of the e, five monads; of the m, four monads; of the n, five monads; of the (long) o, eight monads; of the n, five monads; which, brought together into one series, will be 1, 3, 1, 4, 5, 4, 5, 8, 5; and these added together make up 36 monads. Again, they take the roots of these, and they become three in the case of the number thirty, but actually six in the case of the number six. The three and the six, then, added together, constitute nine; but the root of nine is nine: therefore the name Agamemnon terminates in the root nine.”


Casting Out Nines


Hippolytus gives an example of casting out nines with the names Hector and Patroclus:


“Let us do the same with another name — Hector. The name (H)ector has five letters — e, and k, and t, and o, and r. The roots of these are 5, 2, 3, 8, 1; and these added together make up 19 monads. Again, of the ten the root is one; and of the nine, nine; which added together make up ten: the root of ten is a monad. The name Hector, therefore, when made the subject of computation, has formed a root, namely a monad. It would, however, be easier to conduct the calculation thus: Divide the ascertained roots from the letters — as now in the case of the name Hector we have found nineteen monads— into nine, and treat what remains over as roots. For example, if I divide 19 into 9, the remainder is 1, for 9 times 2 are 18, and there is a remaining monad: for if I subtract 18 from 19, there is a remaining monad; so that the root of the name Hector will be a monad. Again, of the name Patroclus these numbers are roots: 8, 1, 3, 1, 7, 2, 3, 7, 2; added together, they make up 34 monads. And of these the remainder is 7 monads: of the 30, 3; and of the 4, 4. Seven monads, therefore, are the root of the name Patroclus.”


Another way of thinking about it is finding the pythmenes, or digital root, of every letter in a name. If there is two or more of the same letter, then that letter is only counted once. Sum of the numeric values of all the letters in the name. Divide the sum total by nine. Identify the remainder. If the remainder is zero, then the digital root of the name is nine.


The Name of the Querent and the Name of His Mother


The onomantic computations often include not just the name of the man in question but also the name of his mother. The Syriac Book of Medicines directs the reader to cast out nines in relation to the Syriac alphabet, saying:


“Thus shalt thou cast out from the letters of the name of a man and from those of the name of his mother, having cast out nine by nine. Take to thee from yodh (10) one, and from kaph (20) two, and from lomadh (30) three, and from mim (40) four, and from non (50) five, and from semkath (60) six, and from 'ain (70) seven, and from pe (80) eight, and from sadhe (90) nine, and from koph (100) one, and from resh (200) two, and from shin (300) three, and from taw (400) four.”


Casting Out Sevens


The other onomantic calcuation is applying the divisor seven. Hippolytus says:


“They, on the other hand, (who conduct their calculations) according to the rule of the number seven, take the seventh (part of the aggregate number of roots); for example, in the case of the name Patroclus, the aggregate in the matter of roots is 34 monads. This divided into seven parts makes four, which (multiplied into each other) are 28. There are six remaining monads; (so that a person using this method) says, according to the rule of the number seven, that six monads are the root of the name Patroclus. If, however, it be 43, (six) taken seven times, he says, are 42, for seven times six are 42, and one is the remainder. A monad, therefore, is the root of the number 43, according to the rule of the number seven. But one ought to observe if the assumed number, when divided, has no remainder; for example, if from any name, after having added together the roots, I find, to give an instance, 36 monads. But the number 36 divided into nine makes exactly 4 εννεαδς; for nine times 4 are 36, and nothing is over. It is evident, then, that the actual root is 9. And again, dividing the number forty-five, we find nine and nothing over — for nine times five are forty-five, and nothing remains; (wherefore) in the case of such they assert the root itself to be nine. And as regards the number seven, the case is similar: if, for example we divide 28 into 7, we have nothing over; for seven times four are 28, and nothing remains; (wherefore) they say that seven is the root. But when one computes names, and finds the same letter occurring twice, he calculates it once; for instance, the name Patroclus has the pa twice, and the o twice: they therefore calculate the a once and the o once. According to this, then, the roots will be 8, 1, 3, 1, 7, 2, 3, 2, and added together they make 27 monads; and the root of the name will be, according to the rule of the number nine, nine itself, but according to the rule of the number seven, six.”


Hippolytus makes the distinction between casting out by nines and sevens. The Syriac Book of Medicines explains how to cast out of sevens in relation to the Syriac alphabet, expounding:


“And if thou wishest to cast them out seven by seven, do so thus: Take from kheth (8) one, and from teth (9) two, and from yodh (10) three, and from kaph (20) six, and from lomadh (30) two, and from mim (40) five, and from non (50) one, and from semkath (60) four, and from 'ain (70) nine, and from pe (80) three, and from sadhe (90) six, and from koph (100) two, and from resh (200) four, and from shin (300) six, and from taw (400) one.”


These calculations of casting out by nines and sevens are a frequent occurrence in the onomantic literature. Now we turn to the onomantic prognostications themselves.


Part II: Onomantic Prognostications about the Fate of a Sick Person


Prognostication #1


From the Syriac Book of Medicines, the first prognostication given here requires the name of the sick person and the name of his or her mother. After summing the totals by the principle of pythmenes (i.e., the digital roots), then cast out by nine. The numerical remainder is corresponded to the following results table to prognosticate the fate of the sick person. The Book of Medicine reads:


“Again a calculation concerning those who are sick.

First of all reckon up the [numerical values of the letters of the] name of the sick man, and of those of the name of his mother, and cast them out nine by nine (i.e., divide them by nine).


If one remaineth to thee, his sickness is from God.

And if two, it is caused by the Evil Eye.

And if three, it is caused by sorcery (or, witchcraft, but if it be a child who is sick, he is too young for the disease to be a punishment (or, revenge).

And if four, the sickness is caused by an evil spirit.

And if five, there is a shidha (i. e., a devil) in it.

And if six, the sickness is from heaven.

And if seven, it is due to trembling caused by fear.

And if eight, the sickness is caused by a blow of Satan.

And if nine, it is from his mother's womb (i. e., congenital), or is due to vengeance, or disturbing dreams.”


Prognostication #2


The same arithemtic procedure is applied in another calcuation, which reads as follows:


“Another calculation concerning those who are sick.

Reckon up [the numerical values of the letters] of the name of the sick man, and of those of the name of his mother, and cast them out nine by nine (i. e., divide them by nine).


And if one remaineth, and [if his sickness] fell [upon him] on the first day of the week, the day of the sun, his sickness is from his shoulders and head and neck, and he will remain sick for nine

days.


And if two remain, and if his sickness fell upon him on the second day of the week, the day of the moon, his sickness is from his belly, and his whole body is sick.


And if three remain, and if his sickness fell upon him on the third day of the week, the day of Aris (Mars), his disease is hot and dry; he bathed in water, and the air smote him. Make thou for him three lamp-wicks out of his garments. Set one at his head, and one by his right side, and one by his left side, and he will be sick for fifteen days.


And if four remain, and if his sickness fell upon him on the fourth day of the week, the day of Harmis (Mercury), he passed through (or, over) water, and did not call upon the name of God. Let him give alms. He will be ill for seventeen days.


And if five remain, and if his sickness fell upon him on the fifth day of the week, the day of Zeus, his sickness is caused by over-eating, and his heart is mad. Let him make an offering (or, give alms) of a hen. He will be ill for sixteen days.


And if six remain, and if his sickness fell upon him on the Eve of the Sabbath, the day of Aphrodite, his sickness is from his head and from his body, and is also due to the turning of two periods (?) of his life. He will be ill for twelve days.


And if seven remain, and if his sickness fell upon him on the day of the Sabbath, the day of Kronos, his sickness ariseth from his liver and from his heart, and trembling fell upon him. Bring dust from seven roads, and from seven cemeteries, and from four fountains of water, and repeat over him . . .


And if eight remain, he saw a bad dream on the fourth day of the week. Twenty days he will remain [sick].


And if nine remain, he sat upon the ground on the night of the Eve of the Sabbath and did not call upon the Name of the Living God. He will remain sick for eighteen days, and his illness is due to vengeance.”


Prognostication #3


In the following onomantic prognostication, there are two numerical values: (1) the name of the sick person and (2) the name of the day in which he became sick. Identify the pythmenes, or the digital root, of both names. Then divide the numeric total of these two names by three. The prognostication is given in the following results table to which the numerical remainder corresponds. If the remainder is three, then the sick person will die, and another arithemetic procedure is undertaken to determine which day he will die. The numerical value of the name of the day is then divided by three and that quotient is then divided by three; hence, there are two parts representing the day. A second results table of the days of the week is provided for the fateful day.


“Another calculation: If thou wishest to know whether a sick man will die or recover: Reckon up the numerical values of the letters in the name of the sick man, and those of the letters in the name of the day in which he became sick, take the total of thy calculation in thy hand, and divide it into three parts, two [representing] the day, and one the sick man.


And if one remaineth to thee, the sick man will live.

And if two, his disease will prolong itself.

And if three, he will die.


Now this is a very sure method, but besides dying, when three remain of the number made by the letters of his own name, he will die whenever he falleth sick on the day of the number made by the letters of which two remain.


When thou hast counted out three by three the number made by the letters of the names of the days, thus shalt thou reckon:


From the first day of the week, two.

From the second day of the week, two.

From the third day of the week, one.

From the fourth day of the week, two.

From the fifth day of the week, two.

From the Eve of the Sabbath, one.

And from the Sabbath, one.”


Prognostication #4


There are three names for this prognostication: (1) the name of the sick person, (2) the name of his or her mother, and (3) the name of the day in which the sick querent comes to visit the onomantic diviner. After identifying the pythmenes, or digital root, of each one, then take one of them and divide it by three, and then take that quotient and divide it by three. The prognostication is given in the following results table of the querent’s visited day of the week to which the numerical remainder corresponds.


Another indication concerning a sick man. Reckon up the numerical values of the letters of the name of the sick man, and those of the letters of the name of his mother, on the day wherein he cometh to thee, and see how much they make, and then count them out three by three.


If he came on the first day of the week, and one remaineth, he will rise up (i.e., recover) quickly.

And if two remain, his sickness will last a long time.

And if three remain, he is nigh unto death.


And if he came on the second day of the week, and two remain, he will recover [quickly].

And if three remain, he will be sick a long time,

And if one remaineth, he will recover [quickly].


And if he came on the third day of the week, and three remain, he will recover [quickly].

And if two remain, he is nigh unto death,

And if one remaineth, he will be sick a long time.


And if he came on the fourth day of the week, and one remaineth, he will recover immediately. And if two remain, he will be sick a long time.

And if three remain, he is nigh unto death.


And if he came on the fifth day of the week, and two remain, he will recover [quickly].

And if three remain, he will be sick for a long time.

And if one remaineth, he will not recover.


And if he came on the Eve of the Sabbath, and three remain, he will recover.

And if two remain, he is nigh unto death.

And if one remaineth, he will be sick a long time.


And if he came on the Sabbath, reckon in the same way as thou dost for the Eve of the Sabbath.”


Prognostication #5


This prognostication is able to predict three things: (1) the health status of a sick person, (2) the status of a lost object, and (3) the status of a runaway slave. This prognostication is notable for counting from the day of the Sabbath. The other factor is the day when the sick person fell ill, or the day when the object was lost, or the day when the runaway slave fled. This particular prognostication is suspected of scribal corruption. I noticed that the results table of life, danger, and death had problems with its numbers. The table of danger is missing number 20, and it duplicated 14. Perhaps instead of two 14’s there ought to be a 14 and a 17. Also, I noticed that there is a doubling of 23 between the table of life and the table of danger. I believe 23 belongs to the table of danger. In this way, the table of life has 9 numbers, the table of danger has 13 numbers, and the table of death has 13 numbers, creating an even distribution of numbers 1-35 across these three tables.


“Another calculation concerning a sick man, and something which is lost, and a man who hath fled.


Take the days from the seventeenth day of Shebat until the day when the sick man took to his bed, or the day when the thing was lost, or the day when the man fled, and see how many they make, and then cast them out by thirty-fives, and then see in which table is the number which doth not go out in thirty-five.


If it be in the first table, the sick man will live, and the thing lost will be found, and the runaway slave will return.


And if it be in the second table, the patient will remain sick for a long time, but will be healed eventually, although he will be in danger; and the lost thing will only reappear after much delay, and the runaway slave will fall.


And if the number be in the last table, the sick man will die, and that which is lost will never be found, and the runaway slave will never return.


Prognostication #6


This prognostication calculates the lunar day on which the sick person fell ill (the first day is the New Moon), then adds it to the name of the sick person, and the total sum is then taken through the iterative process of pythmenes, or digital root, then divided by nineteen and then that quotient is divided by nineteen. The prognostication is determined by the number to which the numerical reminder corresponds in the results table of life and death presented below. Presumably, this results table was originally designed within a circle; it certainly presents itself as another variant of the Sphere of Life and Death.


“Another way. Enquire when the man was taken ill, and see how many days there were of the moon until the day when he was taken ill. Reckon up the numerical values of the letters of the name of the sick man, and add to them the number of the days that have passed since the new moon, and cast them out nineteen by nineteen. What remaineth over above the nineteens, keep in thy mind, and then enter into the circle which is before thee, and thou wilt find the number that remaineth to thee, [to find out] whether he will die or live.


One. He will live.

Two. He will die.

Three. He will live.

Four. He will either live or die.

Five. He will live.

Six. He will either live or die.

Seven. He will live.

Eight. He will die.

Nine. He will live.

Ten. He will either live or die.

Eleven. He will die.

Twelve. He will either live or die.

Thirteen. He will die.

Fourteen. If he be left for a little, he will certainly live, but another codex, maketh known

that he will die.

Fifteen. He will die.

Sixteen. He will live.

Seventeen. He is dead already, but in another place it saith that he will live.

Eighteen. He will either live or die.

Nineteen. He will live.”


Prognostication #7


This prognostication calculates the lunar day on which the sick person fell ill (the first day is the New Moon), adds it to the name of the sick person, and then adds twenty. Having identified the sum total’s digital root, then divide it by thirty, and then divide that quotient by thirty. The prognostication is determined by the number to which the numerical reminder corresponds in the results table of life and death found below.


“Another way. See on what day he was taken ill, and how many days have elapsed since the new moon. And thou must learn the name by which the sick man was called when he was born. Then count up the numerical values of the letters of his name, and keep the sum of them in thy mind; add to them the days of the moon's age, which have been mentioned above, and add to these twenty days. When thou hast added them all together, and made one number, then cast it out thirty by thirty, and see how many are left over in thy hands. And come to the two tables which are drawn up before thee here, and if the number that remaineth in thy hand is in the first one the sick man will live, and if it is in the second one, he will die.”



Prognostication #8


The following onomantic prognostication assigns odd and even numbers to the Moon which can be used in an algorithm for predicting the outcome of a sick person, the status of a runaway slave, the loss of an object, or other things. Essentially, these Moon numbers, divided into “light days” being odd and “dark days” being even, could be represented within a results table. Unfortunately, the scribe of this text does not appear to truly understand what is meant by “light days” and “dark days” as these terms mean the waxing and the waning of the Moon, respectively. The scribe appears to misunderstand these terms as when the Moon is actually visible to the naked eye, considering the weather. This misunderstanding is expressed in the results table in which the Moon is visibly “light” or “dark” every other day. Such a misunderstanding distorts the onomantic prognostication entirely. The Moon waxes, or increases in light, after the New Moon and lasts until the Full Moon (i.e., roughly 1-15 days). The Moon wanes, or diminishes in light, after the Full Moon and lasts until the New Moon (i.e., roughly 16-30 days). Thus, a corrected results table would reflect these two halves.


Regardless of this scribal error, the numerical values are calculated from the following: (1) the name of the sick person, (2) the number of days since the New Moon, (3) the day in which the sick person fell ill. Assuming the algorithm is made by casting out nines, then the remainder is compared against the day in which the sick person fell ill to the results table. Also, compare the numerical value of the sick person’s name to the results table. The prognostication does not explicitly state the purpose of identifying the number of days since the New Moon, although if the scribe understood the true meaning of the light and dark days of the moon, then he would have known that identifying the New Moon would help in marking which days are “light” (i.e., waxing) and which days are “dark” (i.e., waning).


“Another calculation whereby the physician may know which are the days when the moon hath light, and which are those when it hath no light, and whether the sick man will live or die.


The days when the moon hath light are the odd days, viz., one, three, five, seven, nine, eleven, thirteen, fifteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-three, twenty-five, twenty-seven, and twenty-nine.


And the days when the moon is dark are the even days, viz., two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty, twenty-two, twenty-four, twenty-six, twenty-eight, and thirty.


Now if a man falleth sick when the moon hath light, he will most certainly exist in a weak state for a long time.


See then, (i.e., find out) the name of the sick man, and reckon up the numerical values of the letters thereof, and find out the number of the days since the new moon, and the day wherein the sick man took to his bed; and examine the number that remaineth over with thee, and see whether it is found in [the number of] the day on which the moon hath light, and also [the number of] the day wherein he took to his bed.


If the moon hath no light on that day, he will subsist for a long time; but if he took to his bed on a day when the moon had light, and the reckoning as to [his] name remaineth to the day wherein it had no light, even though he may suffer greatly, and pass through much affliction, he will be saved.


If, however, the two calculations are seen to apply to the day when the moon had no light, he will most certainly die. And thou mayest use this calculation in making a forecast about any fugitive, or about any thing that is lost, and about everything else.”


Prognostication #9


The following onomantic prognostication is another variant of the Table of the Victorious and the Vanquished. This onomantic prognostication helps to determine whether a sick person will recover or not, whether a lost object will be found, and whether or not a runaway slave will return. It calculates from the name of the planet (i.e., wandering star) which rules the day on which the sick person took to bed. In Western astrology, it is well-known that the Sun rules Sunday, the Moon rules Monday, Mars rules Tuesday, Mercury rules Wednesday, Jupiter rules Thursday, Venus rules Friday, and Saturn rules Saturday. The name of the planet that rules the day on which the sick person took to bed is pitted against the name of the sick person. Whichever number conquers the other determines the outcome. Although a results table is not presented here, one could easily be made.


“Another calculation about a man who is sick. In this manner shalt thou make thy calculation. Reckon up the numerical values of the letters in the name of the star that ruled the day on which the man fell sick, and those of the letters of the name of the sick man; reckon up both sets of numbers, according to the instructions given above. And in like manner make thy calculation about the thing that is lost (or, stolen), and the man who hath betaken himself to flight. Reckon up the numbers of the name of the thing that is lost, and those of the name of him who hath lost anything; and if the owner's name conquereth, his loss will be discovered, and the thing itself. And if he who is sick, or he who hath lost something, conquereth the star that ruleth the day on which he fell sick, he will rise up from his sickness, and be healed, and the thing that is lost will be found. This calculation is sure, and it hath been well tried.


“The Days of the Planets.

Hermes ruleth the night of the first day of the week, and the Sun the day-time.

Zeus ruleth the night of the second day of the week, and the Moon the day-time.

Aphrodite ruleth the night of the third day of the week, and Ari[e]s the day-time.

Kronos ruleth the night of the fourth day of the week, and Hermes the day-time.

The Sun ruleth the night of the fifth day of the week, and Zeus the day-time.

The Moon ruleth the night of the Eve of the Sabbath, and Aphrodite the day-time.

Ari[e]s ruleth the night of the Sabbath, and Kronos the daytime.


“And if thou wishest to know how many will remain over, after thou hast divided the sum of the numerical values of the letters of each of the names of the stars and of the days by nine, the following are the numbers:


“Of the Sun two, and of the Moon four.

Of Ari[e]s one, and of Hermes nine.

Of Zeus one, and of Aphrodite five.

Of Kronos eight.


“Of the first day of the week two.

Of the second day of the week two.

Of the third day of the week one.

Of the fourth day of the week two.

Of the fifth day of the week five.

Of the Eve of the Sabbath four.

Of the Sabbath one.”


[This article is Part II of a three-part series on Onomancy: A Forbidden Art of the Ars Notoria by Matthias Castle.]


[The image for this blog entry comes from Thomas Hoccleve’s “The Tale of Jonathas” of Bodleian Library MS Digby 185, f. 157v et seq.]


Bibliography

Budge, E. A. Wallis, trans. and ed. Syrian Anatomy, Pathology, and Therapeutics, or “The Book of Medicines,” vol. 2. New York: Oxford University Press, 1913.



Kessel, Grigory, chapter 26 “Syriac Medicine” in The Syriac World, ed. Daniel King, (New York: Routledge, 2019), 438-459.



This digital edition by Matthias Castle, Copyright 2023. All rights reserved.

Please do not copy this text to your website, or for any purpose other than private use.


Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon translated by Matthias Castle, published by Inner Traditions International and Bear & Company, © 2023. All rights reserved. http://www.Innertraditions.com Reprinted with permission of publisher.



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