ISSA Proceedings 2014 ~ Interplay Of Implicitness And Authority: Some Remarks On Roman Rhetorical Ethos

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Abstract: In the paper we present an analysis of ethos in the early Roman rhetoric. After a brief conceptualization of “Roman” ethos and different social roles of orator Romanus, we apply such a view of ethos to the Verschueren’s model of linguistic pragmatics. Focusing on different types of implicit meaning we demonstrate how an interaction between the explicit and the implicit reflects a discursive construction of a speaker’s character.

Keywords: argumentation, authority, ethos, implicit meaning, linguistic pragmatics, Roman rhetoric.

1. Introduction
The research of rhetorical ethos varies from historical and theoretical conceptualizations to practical instances as well as possible approaches for analysis. In this paper we focus on Roman rhetorical ethos and its representations as they can be reconstructed from the texts of early Roman republic. As a general conceptual framework we adopt a more socio-cultural viewpoint on rhetorical ethos and try to apply it to the field of linguistic pragmatics.

Rhetorical ethos reveals at least three characteristics that should be kept in mind when classical texts are considered: a) being a part of oratorical practice, ethos is primarily rooted in a Greco-Roman socio-cultural world (Enos, 1995); b) ethos as a theoretical concept of Greco-Roman rhetorical system significantly extends over Aristotle’s or Isocrates’ conceptualizations as two most frequently studied directions in classical rhetoric (Amossy, 2001; Žmavc, 2012); c) in terms of ancient cultural presuppositions of character as a moral and pragmatic category (May, 1988), ethos as a rhetorical representation of such character manifests itself through different means, which all gravitate towards the same rhetorical purpose: to secure a speaker’s successful persuasion of their audience.

In this case study we are interested in the function, forms and contexts of Roman ethos and its explicit/implicit nature, where speakers, along with what they say explicitly, try to communicate something else in terms of presenting their character. The purpose of our investigation is grounded in the nature of the early Roman rhetoric and the speaker/orator as a focal point of public persuasion. It is a well known fact that in Roman society especially in the 3rd and 2nd century B.C. most of the public performance was limited to the members of governing elite.[i] Hence, rhetorical ethos as a persuasion strategy based on a presentation of speaker’s character reflected and at the same time helped to secure their dominant social position.

Considering specifics of socio-cultural context of Roman rhetoric, our main objective is to analyse rhetorical ethos as a certain manifestation of language use, which is anchored in the context of early Roman rhetoric as a time and place specific communicative practice. With such perspective we hope to contribute to an understanding of early Roman rhetorical ethos as well as set an example of methodological framework for further comparative and contrastive perspectives in analysis of rhetorical ethos.

A pragmatically oriented approach towards the analysis of rhetorical ethos also opens a perspective for investigation of implicitness as ‘ethotic’ strategy, especially in terms of representations of speaker’s authority. The concept of implicitness has been thoroughly studied within linguistic pragmatics, where it is generally defined as a “range of meanings that go beyond what is ‘given’ by the language form itself, or what is literally said” (Verschueren, 1999, p. 25). Following Verschueren’s conceptualisation three important characteristics of implicit meaning must be taken into account when we approach to language “as a form of action anchored in a real-world context, or what is perceived as such” (ibid.):

a) due to the impossibility of complete explicitness in language implicit meaning emerges from the contextually embedded action character of speech or text;
b) implicit meaning is not a fixed entity but is shaped and reshaped in the course of linguistic interaction; it is a part of the meaning-generating processes where it interacts with explicit meaning;
c) conventional means for conveying implicit (and explicit) meaning are manipulable and can be strategically exploited.

If we apply these general remarks on implicitness to rhetorical ethos, we can define the implicit nature of construction of speaker’s character: considering ancient cultural presuppositions on character and the role of the speaker, a Roman orator (among other things) had to be capable of strategically exploiting “the impossibility of being fully explicit” (Verschueren, 1999, p. 31) in terms to present himself as an authority. Needless to say, implicitness in the context of persuasion is not characteristic only for Roman rhetoric or rhetorical ethos.[ii] However, due to the socio-cultural context, Roman ethos can be seen as a rhetorical strategy that includes carriers of implicit meaning with an important persuasive function.

Let us say a few words about the methodology. Our main research questions were: What happens with the construction of speaker’s character from the explicit/implicit perspective? Are strategies for implicit meaning generating somehow characteristic for construction of Roman rhetorical ethos? In order to try to answer these questions we incorporated theory and methodology of linguistic pragmatics into analysis of rhetorical ethos in texts of early Roman orators.

In the rhetorical framework we adopted Aristotle’s concept of rhetorical ethos as part of the three means of persuasion (ethos-pathos-logos) and contextualized it with theoretical perspectives of Roman rhetoric as a social practice. The latter are based on studies of Roman rhetoric and oratory by prominent scholars, such as May (1988), Kennedy (1972), Steel (2006) and Enos (1995). We defined ethos as a speaker’s favourable character presentation, whose qualities and persuasive function are contextualized with specific moral and social norms of a given society (in our case early Roman republic) and activated in a language use.

At this point a linguistic pragmatics perspective becomes relevant. As an interdisciplinary science of language use with a well-established theoretical and methodological framework it provides useful tools for analysing meaning generating. The study of implicit meaning was especially motivated by Grice’s famous theory of implicature, which has been extensively treated in different theoretical perspectives by prominent scholars, such as Levinson (2000), Verschueren (1999), Sperber and Wilson (2004) and Carston (2009). Our analysis is based on Verschueren’s theoretical model of linguistic pragmatics, which represents a dynamics of meaning generation in connection to social structures, processes and relations. We believe that such model can represent useful addition to the research of classical rhetorical ethos, because it enables a thorough analysis and adds a broader perspective to the persuasive role of a speaker. A combined approach can be also open new possibilities for comparative and contrastive analysis of other ‘ethotical discourses’ (e. g. ancient Greek, medieval, nation-based etc.).

Here is a brief summary of the core elements of Verschueren’s theory. Using language for Verschueren represents an activity that generates meaning. It consists of continuous making of choices, not only on various level of linguistic structure, but also pertaining to communicative strategies and even at the level of context.[iii] In his research of implicit meaning Verschueren (1999, pp. 27-36) focuses on investigation of conventionalized carriers of implicit meaning, which link explicit content to relevant aspects of background information and are conceptualized as types of implicit meaning.

He distinguishes between the more highly coded
(1) presupposition (implicit meaning that must be pre-supposed, understood, taken for granted for an utterance to make sense) and
(2) implication (known as logical implication, entailment, or conventional implicature, i.e. implicit meaning that can be logically inferred from a form of expression). The other three types need to be inferred by addressees:
(3) generalized conversational implicature (implicit meaning that can be conventionally, or by default, inferred from forms of expression in combination with assumed standard adherence to conversational maxims),
(4) particularized conversational implicatures (implicit meaning inferred from the obvious flouting of a conversational maxim in combination with assumed adherence to a principle of conversational cooperation), and
(5) a residual type of inferences not directly related to basic maxims or heuristics (e. g. unspoken ways of an utterer’s orientation to aspects of meaning and context). The general idea behind this concepts is to investigate how different types of implicit meaning, functioning at different (mostly) structural levels, interact with explicit meaning in the meaning-generating processes in any discourse.[iv]

In our analysis we focus on such interaction in relation to the construction of rhetorical ethos. In order to get meaningful interpretations of strategic interplay between explicit and implicit in the construction of rhetorical ethos, we applied different principles from Verschueren’s pragmatic approach. They include investigation of interrelated tasks, such as a) investigation of different aspects of context from the general to the specific levels (i. e. wider social, political and historical context of early Roman rhetoric; immediate context of situation referring to the of ‘actors’ involved in the analysed discourse; linguistic context – a textual/speech dimension of contextualization) and b) investigation of certain conventions of language use, which are mobilised in the analysed discourse as linguistic choices relevant for construction of ethos (e. g., language code and style, patterns of word choice, carriers of implicit meaning, activity type).

2. Roman rhetorical ethos, authority and implicitness – A linguistic pragmatic analysis of the defence of scipio africanus
In the second part of our paper we present a case study of the role of implicitness in construction of rhetorical ethos in early Roman rhetoric. As an example we used a fragment of the defence of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (235-183 BC), a famous Roman politician and a military general from the period of early Roman republic, who was also known for his oratorical skill and public performance. The fragment is preserved in Aulus Gellius’ Noctes Atticae, and refers to historical events around the year of 184 BC when tribune M. Naevius charged Africanus of accepting money from King Antiochus of Asia.

The purpose of analysis of Scipio’s words is to identify main elements of construction of his ethos and to determine its function in the context of his defence.[v] A special attention is paid to the strategies where interplay between explicit and implicit meaning generation is relevant for representation of his authority. We also investigated, which character features of Scipio’s ethos are presented through presuppositions, implications and implicatures and how is a set of propositions of “who and what he is” related to the issue that he is presenting. Contextualized with general features of early Roman rhetoric and society we conceptualise Roman rhetorical ethos as a means of persuasion that is specific in its structure, dynamics and function. Let us now see what Scipio said in his defence according to Gellius:

(1) Cum M. Naevius tribunus plebis accusaret eum ad populum diceretque accepisse a rege Antiocho pecuniam, ut condicionibus gratiosis et mollibus pax cum eo populi Romani nomine fieret, et quaedam item alia crimini daret indigna tali viro, tum Scipio pauca praefatus quae dignitas vitae suae atque gloria postulabat, ‘Memoria,’ inquit, ‘Quirites, repeto, diem esse hodiernum quo Hannibalem Poenum imperio vestro inimicissimum magno proelio vici in terra Africa pacemque et victoriam vobis peperi spectabilem. Non igitur simus adversum deos ingrati et, censeo, relinquamus nebulonem hunc, eamus hinc protinus Iovi optimo maximo gratulatum.’ Id cum dixisset, avertit et ire ad Capitolium coepit. Tum contio universa, quae ad sententiam de Scipione ferendam convenerat, relicto tribuno, Scipionem in Capitolium comitata atque inde ad aedes eius cum laetitia et gratulatione sollemni prosecuta est. (Aul. Gell. NA 4.18.3-5)

(When Marcus Naevius, tribune of the commons, accused him before the people and declared that he had received money from king Antiochus to make peace with him in the name of the Roman people on favourable and easy terms, and when the tribune added sundry other charges which were unworthy of so great a man, then Scipio, after a few preliminary remarks such as were called for by the dignity and renown of his life, said: ‘I recall, fellow citizens, that this is the day on which in Africa in a mighty battle I conquered Hannibal the Carthaginian, the most bitter enemy of your power, and won for you a splendid peace and a glorious victory. Let us then not be ungrateful to the gods, but, I suggest, let us leave this worthless fellow, and go at once to render thanks to Jupiter, greatest and best of gods.’ So saying, he turned away and set out for the Capitol. Thereupon the whole assembly, which had gathered to pass judgment on Scipio, left the tribune, accompanied Scipio to the Capitol, and then escorted him to his home with the joy and expressions of gratitude suited to a festal occasion. (transl. by J. C. Rolfe; italics are ours)

Since implicit meaning is highly context dependent, the first step is to set the referential framework that constitutes the cultural, social and linguistic context, in which Scipio’s defence is anchored.[vi] Besides mutual knowledge of Scipio (utterer), Roman people and M. Naevius (interpreters, first as direct addressees, the second as side participant in the event), which consists of the world of unexpressed but assumed to be shared information (e. g. recursive and mutual embedings: I know that you know that I know etc.), we also need to consider social and cultural aspects of rhetoric in the period of early Roman republic that motivate and/or are affected by the linguistic choices in Scipio’s speech.

Here is a short outline of the relevant wider context. Before it came into close contact with a conceptualized Greek rhetorike tekhne, early Roman rhetoric (3/2nd century B.C.) as an oratorical practice reflects of Rome’s social and political situation. Public oratory played an important part in society; however, a group of Roman aristocratic families who directed economic and political growth of res publica influenced all socio-cultural activities, public speaking as well. Such native rhetoric would in some part present a tool of political power, but at the same time it was tools for sustaining and transmitting traditional political, social and cultural values of the dominant social group (Kennedy, 1972; May, 1988). Social and political structures, such as courts (with patronus-cliens system), political offices (contio and senatus – each with special audiences and procedures for speakers) as well as funerals (a well known ‘place’ for emotional character presentation and establishing connections between individual’s traits and cultural patterns), offered main opportunities for orators as well as determined their key persuasive strategies (Steel, 2006). Regardless of the rhetorical situation, in Rome persuasion was always subordinated to the strategy of speaker’s character presentation. Roman orator, based on his social and political ranking, represented a widely recognised authority and was a focal point of traditional (native) forms of public speaking. Consequently, rhetorical ethos of that time reveals some of the characteristics that are connected with the strategic exploitation of the explicit and the implicit. This circumstance influenced further development of Roman rhetoric, which is particularly evident in Cicero’s speeches and theoretical discussions on rhetoric (May, 1988, pp. 5-6).

For a clearer picture let us point out some of the most typical characteristics of rhetorical ethos as a strategy of persuasion that can be identified in the early and late republican Roman oratory.[vii] The concept of Roman rhetorical ethos is based on Roman conceptions of a person’s ‘character’, which was believed to be inherited from family ancestors and remained constant from birth. Consequently, a character would also determine person’s actions. As a strategy of persuasion it represented a broad concept on the quantitative and qualitative level, which significantly differed from Greek conceptions of rhetorical ethos.[viii] Roman ethos was a combination of collective and individual ethos. The first one consisted of political and military accomplishments of a speaker’s family members (i. e. collective ethos of the gens), the second one was a result of speaker’s own authority, which arose from actions of the speaker himself and proved his ‘ethotic’ value.

Individual ethos consisted of set of virtues, recognised in Roman society as praiseworthy and vital for person’s public activity. These virtues were:

1) gratia: influence and popularity based on the number of services owed to the speaker,
2) gloria: glory as a consequence of speaker’s past actions (i. e. res gestae),
3) existimatio: reputation based on his oratorical and political skills,
4) dignitas: dignity as a result of speaker’s social status and moral conduct,
5) auctoritas: authority as a consequence of exhibition of wisdom gained through practical experience, expert knowledge and a sense of responsibility in public and private life.[ix]

Another characteristic of Roman ethos as strategy of persuasion refers to the ways of its realisation in the discourse. Since it reflected socio-political circumstances and cultural assumptions about human nature and character, Roman rhetorical ethos conveys an entirely pre-existing nature (i. e. it is not constructed in the discourse but reflected by the discourse) as well as it contains emotional connotations (i. e. a conflation with pathos). As a final remark we should add that Roman rhetorical ethos also carries an argumentative function. Arguments based on speaker’s character represented a legitimate source of proof and were discursively realised either in the form of ‘ethical narrative’ (i. e. facts that were represented as reflections of speaker’s character) or as a part of argument from authority (i. e. arguments based on explicit or implicit premise ‘because I say so’).[x]

We are now returning to our example of Scipio’s defence, where ethos reveals a similar position. Before we present characteristics of his persuasion strategy let us briefly sketch relevant elements of the immediate/situational and linguistic context as they can be identified on the discursive (i. e. textual/speech) level and are relevant for implicit meaning generation in Scipio’s ethos construction[xi]:

* Utterers and interpreters:
– utterer: Scipio presents himself as a well known to audience and uses his own voice (1st person) when referring to his role in the past historical event and the importance of his actions for Romans (memoria repeto/“I recall”; vici/“I conquered”; victoriam peperi/“I won”). He switches to the use of 1st person plural when he positions himself as a part of the collective (i. e. Romans) and present actions, which should to be taken in order to prevent anger of the gods (non simus ingrati/“let us not be ungrateful”; relinquams/“let us leave”; eamus/“let us go”);
– interpreters: a) people of Rome – primary audience, directly addressed by Scipio to secure their attention and influence their decision; b) M. Naevius tribune of the commons – a prosecutor, presented as a side participant and indirectly addressed by the use of pejorative description (hic nebulo/“this worthless fellow”).

* Mental states: The use of the 1st person plural and a hortatory subjunctive mood in the second part reveals utterer’s personal and emotional involvement into actions he is proposing.

* Aspects of social/institutional settings: Within a ‘defence speech’ preformed in the context of judicial event (contio … ad sententiam … ferendam convenerat/“assembly … gathered to pass judgement”) religious practices (adversum deos ingrati/“not be ungrateful to the gods”; gratulatum/“render thanks”) and ‘institutions’ (Iovi Optimo Maximo/“Juppiter greatest and best of gods”; in Capitolinum/“for the Capitol”) are invoked as a reminder of the role of religion in Roman social structures (e. g. Juppiter as a bestower of military victory).

* Temporal and spatial anchor of the discourse: As a response to the accusations, relevance of past events for a present state of affairs is emphasised and a new spatial point of reference is presented. The present spatial point is ‘judicial’ and bares a negative connotation as a representation of an unnecessary and improper trial. It is marked by linguistic choices of a description of the accuser, who should remain at the present place (relinquamus nebulonem hunc/“let us leave this worthless fellow”), and of the swiftness of leaving the present location by the utterer and the rest of the audience (eamus hinc protinus/“let us go at once”). The new spatial point, which is suggested by utterer, is ‘religious’ and bares a positive connotation as a place where a sacred duty that needs to be performed.

* Markers of co(n)textual cohesion: anaphora (vestro – vobis), self-reference (repeto – vici – peperi – censeo), contrasting (ingrati – gratulatum; nebulo – Iuppiter).

With all these correlates in mind we now proceed to the final part of our analysis, where the strategy of construction of Scipio’s ethos is analysed through the interplay between explicit and implicit information and interpreted as a vital communicative element in the process of his successful persuasion of the audience.

Table 1: A schematic presentation of explicit and implicit information in Scipio’s defence, which are relevant to the construction of his rhetorical ethos

From the linguistic choices in the fragment we can see that the construction of Scipio’s authority, as a basis for the standpoint that charges against him must be dropped, is entirely based on his individual ethos. The authority that comes from his character is justified by Scipio’s specifications of
a) his past actions,
b) his social status and moral conduct, as well as
c) his auctoritas.[x] As means for such presentation we can identify the following examples of the strategic interplay between explicit and implicit information (see table 1).

Reading Scipio’s defence in the broader frame, that is, as a specific language activity type (i. e. judicial oratory) with its typical structure, language, code and style, we can interpret the fragment from A. Gellius as a part of refutation. The general argumentative pattern consists of the main argument from authority about Scipio’s merits and moral conduct (i. e. his ethos), followed by a conversed argument from authority (i. e. ad hominem) about Scipio’s opponent. Both arguments support the conclusion about dropping charges against Scipio. We can reconstruct this in the following scheme:

Premise 1: I am ‘such and such’ authority, and I believe that charges must be dropped.
Premise 2: My accuser is not an authority (he is a ‘nebulo’). – ad hominem.
Conclusion: Charges must be dropped.

In the fragment both premises remain implicit and so does the conclusion. But Gellius’ description of the situation (i. e. the cotext of the quotation) and the above-indicated pragmatic aspects of the ‘speech’ itself provide us with enough information for such a general meaning construct. The question is: Why would Scipio Africanus, one of the most respected Romans use implicit argument from authority in order to succeed in a trial against him? A coherent answer unfortunately cannot be provided on the basis of (linguistic pragmatic) analysis of A. Gellius’ fragment. However, we can rephrase our question and include results of our background analysis into a tentative answer that would in some part explain his linguistic choices in terms of construction of his ethos, which were identified in the schematic presentation above. Namely, we can ask ourselves, what types of implicit meaning do premises and conclusion belong to and why? Taking into account our investigation of referential framework and strategies of language use, it is evident that Scipio’s implicit argument from authority (i. e. his ethos) could be seen more as presupposition and not as implication or implicature. The elements of Scipio’s authority (i. e. his merits, social status etc.), due to the Roman cultural presuppositions, represented a shared to be assumed background knowledge and not something to be logically inferred from a form of expression or conventionally (much less) conversationally inferred by his addressees. His ethos as a persuasive/argumentative strategy is the effect of the use of implicitly communicated content, which had a pre-discursive nature and preceded him as an utterer/orator. In other words, he was able to use his ethos as a main argument regardless of its relevance to the conclusion/charges because of the Roman socio-cultural context, which legitimated such use. As for other two elements in the argument scheme, we can interpret a) the conclusion as implication, based on the sufficient grounds that Scipio is offering in the context of his self-characterisation, and b) a second premise as implicature. The ad hominem contains a characterisation of Scipio’s accuser/opponent (i. e. ‘nebulo’). What ‘nebulo’ stands for and why he cannot be seen as a proper authority in the trial, which is taking place on the anniversary of Scipio’s defeat of Hannibal, is something that audience must infer from Scipio’s description of his past actions, social status and moral conduct. And this might be another reason why he takes the effort of enumerating his ethotical qualities otherwise known to the audience: to imply that his opponent is something completely opposite, which would make his ethos inconsistent with the accusations he has set forth against Scipio.

3. Conclusion

From the analysis of Scipio’s strategic use of explicit and implicit meaning generation in construction of ethos we could see that his argumentation entirely relied on the impact of his self-characterisation made upon cultural presuppositions of that time. Such strategies were common and are evident in many other fragments of Roman orators. Again, it is the importance of person’s character in Roman society that made these strategies a focal point of persuasion and a formal means of proof. This is a unique Roman perspective on ethos that despite of adoption of Greek rhetorical system fundamentally influenced further development of Roman rhetorical practice and theory.

i. Cf. Kennedy (1972), Enos (1995), Steel (2006).
ii. Let us point out just two examples: a) one of the corner stone elements in rhetorical argumentation, Aristotle’s enthymeme, is fundamentally grounded on the implicit element (i. e. major premise); b) there are conventional linguistic strategies within the classical concept of ornatus (e. g. wide range of tropes and figures of speech) that are based on deliberate avoiding of explicitness and are used to communicate implicature-type added meaning (cf. Verschueren, 2012, p. 171).
iii. The concept of linguistic choices and notions of variability, negotiability, adaptability that make sense of process/activity of choice-making, as well as contextual correlates of adaptability that motivate and/or are affected by the choices are outlined in Verschueren (1999).
iv. Cf. Verschueren (2012, p. 159).
v. For a discussion on problems of authenticity of Scipio’s words see Kennedy (1972, p. 6.). In analysis of implicitness we used only words that Gellius literary ascribes to Scipio, while Gellius’ description circumstances is partly included among elements of immediate context.
vi. Theory of contextual correlates is outlined in Verschueren (1999).
vii. For extensive discussion cf. May (1988, pp. 5-12).
viii. For discussion cf. Žmavc (2012, pp. 181-189).
ix. Cf. Balsdon (1960) and May (1988) for ancient sources on the use of specific notions.
x. For ancient testimonies about Roman conceptions of character and its rhetorical/persuasive function see Cic., De sen. 61.7.10, Brut. 111.4-112.1, De or. 2.182; Quint. Inst.
xi. A short historical background of the event: After Antiochus had advanced into Greece, Scipio’s brother Lucius was given the command, Publius serving as his legate; they defeated Antiochus at Magnesia. In 187 BC Lucius was accused for refusing to account for 500 talents received from Antiochus; Publius may have been accused but not condemned in 184 BC.
xii. Engl. word ‘authority’ is not a sufficient translation of Latin auctoritas.

Amossy, R. (2001). Ethos at the crossroads of disciplines: rhetoric, pragmatics, sociology. Poetics Today, 22/1, 1-23.
Balsdon, J. P. V. D. (1960). Auctoritas, dignitas, otium. The Classical Quaterly. New Series, 10/1, 43-50.
Carston, R. (2009). The explicit/implicit distinction in pragmatics and the limits of explicit communication. International Review of Pragmatics, 1/1, 35-63.
Enos, R. L. (1995). Roman Rhetoric. Revolution and the Greek Influence. Prospect Hights, Illinois: Waveland Press.
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Levinson, S. C. (2000). Presumptive Meanings: The Theory of Generalized Conversational Implicature. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
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Verschueren, J. (2012). Ideology in Language Use. Pragmatic Guidelines for Empirical Research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wilson, D. & Sperber, D. (2004). Relevance theory. In: L. Horn & G. Ward (Eds.) Handbook of Pragmatics (pp. 607-632). Oxford: Blackwell.
Žmavc, J. (2012). The ethos of classical rhetoric: from epieikeia to auctoritas. In: F. H. van Eemeren & B. Garssen (Eds.), Topical Themes in Argumentation Theory: Twenty Exploratory Studies. Argumentation Library, 22 (pp. 181-191). Dordrecht: Springer.

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