Final paper reflections

Published December 18, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

So, I wanted to share some stuff about (and from) my final paper for my class on the fall of the Roman Republic.  The paper was about how the Aeneid was a work of Augustan propaganda as well as being an epic poem…though most of my points on that part of the subject came directly out of one of my few modern sources.  (*shame*)

Anyway, this professor asked for 25 pages, rather than a number of words.  And not “around 25 pages” or “minimum 25 pages” but just plain “25 pages.”  So I had to turn all my foot notes into endnotes, and shunted all of the information about other versions of the Aeneas myth and its relation to the Romulus and Remus myth into two tables at the back.  When the paper was finished, as a point of curiosity, I copied all my endnotes into a new file, increased the font size to 12 point from 10, and double-spaced it.  In that format, my notes were 17 pages long.  The tables, as I recall, ran about five pages.  And the bibliography clocked in at about that length, too.  (Clocked?)

During my re-writing process, I was taking advantage of the “comments” function on Word, which I’d pretty much only used once before, so for me it’s still kind of a cool thing.  On the sentence “Augustus’ propaganda was so effective that its effects are extremely visible in historians of later periods.” I left myself a comment saying “effective + effects = horrible writing!”

Of course, Word has its flaws.  Like, a ton of them.  When I ran the spell check, it suggested I had made a “Possible Word Choice Error”.  The sentence was…actually, I only jotted down the phrase, but it was “his fleet sails to Sicily.”  Word was convinced that I really meant “sales.”  Yeah, ’cause that makes sense.

Though that’s nothing.  The spell checker had no trouble with the name Romulus.  It was totally cool with that name.  But it insisted that “Remus” wasn’t a word.  Um, were they expecting a lot of Star Trek fanfic or something?

But the ultimate case of “stupid Word error” for this paper is what the school’s computer lab’s edition of Word (much more recent and infinitely less user-friendly than my version) insisted was a grammatical error.  The sentence was “the unworthy son of Magnus, he who later as an exile infested the waters of Scylla, and stained by piracy in Sicily the glory his father had gained from the sea,” which is a quote from Lucan’s Pharsalia, about Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompeius Magnus (or Pompey the Great, if you prefer), in the Loeb Classical Library translation.  (Sorry, don’t have the translator’s name handy; all 15 of my library books were returned on Wednesday.  Yeah, 15.  I had to carry all the textbooks I was selling back in a different backpack, ’cause there wasn’t room.)  So, in that sentence, Word was convinced that I was a grammatical moron who had written the wrong word, and that I actually meant to write “as and exile” because you only put “an” in front of a noun. Because OOH, NOO, “exile” can NEVER be a NOUN! Except, you know, WHEN IT’S A ****ING NOUN! OMG, please buy a ****ing clue!

Ahem.

Sorry about that.  That one really got to me.

Okay, so “Stupid Word Stories” are now over, and I’ll indulge myself by quoting some of my favorite bits from the paper at you.  Because.

In summing up the story of the Aeneid, I got to the part where Venus asks her husband Vulcan to craft marvelous armor for her son Aeneas.  This was followed up with the following endnote:

It is doubly odd that Vulcan would oblige his wife in this manner.  First, his help is being granted to the living proof of her having cuckolded him with a mere mortal.  (In the time of the Iliad, of course, Aphrodite wasn’t married to Hephaistos, but to Anchises himself, so Aineias was not a bastard originally.)  Second, in the Aeneid, Aeneas already has a set of divine armor, because before he leaves Buthrotum, he is presented with the armor of Neoptolemus by Helenus, which is the same armor that the self-same god had crafted for Achilleus in the Iliad.  The fact that Helenus even had that armor grows out of one of the few places where Vergil actively contradicts Homer:  in the Odyssey, Neoptolemos is still alive ten years after the war’s conclusion, which is three years after Aeneas tells Dido the story of his visit with Helenus.  Either Aeneas is as big a liar as Odysseus is, or Vergil decided that his point was more important than the Homeric chronology.  It is also possible that this is one of the few genuine proofs that the epic was truly unfinished at Vergil’s death, as the armor Aeneas received from Helenus is never mentioned again; if he was meant to lose it in one of the storms, thus necessitating the new armor, Vergil fails to say so.

(Yes, that was just an endnote.)  As you can see, I switched spellings depending on whether the work I was talking about was Greek or Roman.  (Probably I should have just stuck to the Roman spellings, but I wasn’t going to call the Greek gods by their wrong names, so why should I call the heroes by the wrong names?)

After talking about how Vergil made Andromache childless in the Aeneid, ignoring the son(s) fathered on her by Neoptolemos, which were established as early as Euripides’ Andromache, I followed that up with another endnote that was more text than citation:

[cite Andromache]; Gantz, Early Greek Myth, 689.  Apollodorus, on the other hand, said Helenos marries Neoptolemos’ mother, Deidameia: Apollodorus, in Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae, trans. and ed. Smith and Trzaskoma, 86 (E 6.13).  Given the emphasis in Book VI on the fact that the defeat of the last Macedonian king was also a defeat of the seed of Achilles, and thus a vengeance of Troy, the removal the son(s) of Neoptolemos from whom those kings claimed descent is more than a little odd.  (Though Plutarch does mention an otherwise unknown (and chronologically impossible) wife of Neoptolemos, so perhaps the Macedonian kings (and Pyrrhos) did not claim their descent from Andromache, but from Hermione or some other woman.  Cf. Plutarch, Plutarch’s Lives IX, trans. Bernadotte Perrin, (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1920), 346-7 (Life of Pyrrhus, I.2).

Later, in talking about the many ways Vergil was consciously paralleling the Homeric epics, I got to this bit.  There are two notes on this passage, which I’m just putting with * and ** here.

And like Achilleus, Aeneas is not there to fight at the side of his most dear companion, and thus loses that companion to his ultimate rival in the war, becoming consumed with the need for vengeance on learning of his companion’s fate. But no matter how pretty Pallas was, Aeneas’ affection for him has to look shallow compared to Achilleus’ lifelong attachment to Patroclos, a problem that Vergil utterly failed to overcome, making Aeneas’ rage seem far less justified.*  There are other minor events in both halves of the Aeneid that parallel Homeric episodes: Aeneas, like Odysseus, has a run-in with Scylla and Charybdis; the night raid of Nisus and Euryalus is like that of Diomedes and Odysseus, only with a tragic ending; before his death, Magus pleads with Aeneas in the same way that Lycaon pleads with Achilleus, and Aeneas’ retort contains elements of Achilleus’ speech to Lycaon.**

* On the other hand, Aeneas was not to blame for Pallas’ death — apart from having started the war in the first place — and Pallas was easily killed by Turnus alone, unlike Patroclos, who only fell to Hector’s spear after Apollo knocked his armor off, and Euphorbos stabbed him in the back.

** Virgil, Eclogues; Georgics; Aeneid Books 1-6, 400-401, 408-409 (III.417-432, III.551-559; Scylla and Charybdis); Virgil, Aeneid VII-XII, Appendix Vergiliana, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, rev. G. P. Goold, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 130-145 (IX-224-449; night raid of Nisus and Euryalus), 208-211 (X.522-536; plea and death of Magus); Homer, Odyssey, Books 1-12, 454-457, 464-467 (12.101-110, 12.234-259; Scylla and Charybdis); Homer, Iliad, Books 1-12, 462-487 (10.194-514; night raid of Diomedes and Odysseus); Homer, Iliad, Books 13-24, 408-413 (21.64-119; plea and death of Lycaon). In all cases, except possibly the night raid, Vergil’s imitations seem pale and pathetic. Rather than want to fight off Scylla, Aeneas just wants to avoid both monsters, and in fact does so, reducing the deadly duo from a terrible, man-slaughtering hazard to a terror in the distance. The death of Magus suffers even more by the comparison to the death of Lycaon: being only 14 lines long, instead of 55, the speeches on both sides are shorter and have far less impact. In fact, Aeneas’ entire fit of rage seems completely rushed and uneven; he enters into it immediately, slaughtering recklessly without a moment of mourning, gives the boy his funeral without slaying his killer, and then resumes his mad onslaught afterwards.

So that was all from part one of the paper, when I was just talking about the Aeneid as a text.  Now we’re moving into part two, which was about the propagandistic elements.  And the following section with note I’m quoting to you because I’m proud of my restraint…

Aeneas — like Achilleus — even captured enemies on the battlefield to be sacrificed at the funeral of his dead beloved, much like the 300 captured prisoners Octavian was said to have sacrificed to Julius Caesar, as if such human sacrifice was a standard part of avenging the cherished dead.*

Virgil, Aeneid 7-12, Appendix Vergiliana, 208-9 (X.517-520); Homer, Iliad, Books 13-24, 406-7 (21.26-28); Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, 49 (Divus Augustus 15). Given the romantic relationship between both epic pairs, however, this may have only added to the belief that Octavian had granted sexual favors to his great-uncle. (Then again, I, personally, would say there’s a good chance there was at least a grain of truth to that particular story. It would explain a lot of Octavian’s behavior, and Mark Antony, as one of Julius Caesar’s closest friends, would have been in a good position to have heard about such a ‘conquest,’ if it indeed happened.)

And what about that is restrained, you may be asking.  Two things.  One, I resisted the urge to clarify that while Pallas could reasonably be called Aeneas’ beloved, it’s definitely wrong to use the word about Patroclos — at least in the traditional modern understanding of the word — because as Patroclos was the elder, if either of them fit the modern understanding of “beloved,” it was Achilles…though by Vergil’s day, the Homeric (and Platonic) understanding of Achilles as the younger partner may have been completely eclipsed by the Aeschylean (and possibly Alexander the Greatian) understanding of Patroclos as the younger partner, though it’s hard to be sure from what little I know of the Roman understanding of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclos.  (The one Roman-era text I know off-hand that delves into any detail on the subject, Arrian’s history of Alexander the Great, was written in the reign of Hadrian, which had a lot of effect on the text, given the Hadrian/Antinoos relationship…)   But I didn’t say any of that.  The other reason I was showing restraint is that I actually had a whole lot more to add to my theory about how Mark Antony may have been telling the truth — albeit with an insulting spin — regarding the relationship between Julius Caesar and the young Gaius Octavius.  (Who, upon his great-uncle’s death, became Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, and eventually became Imperator Caesar Augustus.  Yeah, “imperator” technically means, more or less, “general,” but Augustus ended up with it as his new praenomen.  Because weird.  (All the more weird since he was not a fighting man.))

The short version (because I have to tell someone) of how I see it is this.  Okay, wait, let me back up a minute, since I didn’t quote that part.  In Suetonius, there’s a bit where he talks about all the accusations of “effeminacy” that were leveled against Octavian.  And it was Mark Antony who said that Julius Caesar had demanded sexual favors from his great-nephew as “the price of adoption.”  Now, Suetonius clearly didn’t think much of the accusation.  Despite that in his account of ol’ Julius’ life, he talked not only about he accusations of Julius being the passive partner with a king of Bithynia in his youth, but also of having taken the occasional boy as his partner, around all those women.  Anyway, so the way I see it is that here you have weak, sickly teenage Gaius Octavius meeting his grandmother’s brother, the famous, powerful and charismatic general Gaius Julius Caesar, and his hero-worship soon takes on the intensity of a schoolboy crush.  Caesar, being a randy old goat, can’t help taking advantage of the boy.  But then he gets back to Rome and starts feeling guilty about it.  (Being the active partner was cool and normal as far as the Romans were concerned (within reason) but being the passive partner was considered deeply shameful.  Because they were total hypocrites.)  So there he is, talking to his good friend Mark Antony about it, and telling him about how deeply his cute little nephew adores him, and how maybe he took things a wee bit too far, and when Antony reproaches him for it, he admits that he’s been thinking of adopting him to make up for it.  “Isn’t that even worse?” Antony replies, aghast.  “Then you’ll have screwed your son instead of your nephew.”  But Caesar laughs and says that “No, it’s still all right, because he wasn’t my son at the time.”  Antony’s still not convinced, but doesn’t press it, and instead they’re both soon exchanging ribald jests about their many mistresses.

Okay, that got a little too detailed for a theory (it was approaching straight out quasi-historical fiction towards the end there) but you see my point, right?  It’s totally believable, and definitely makes Octavian/Augustus’ desire to avenge his great-uncle/adoptive father’s murder make a lot more sense.  Because even if you discount the sacrificing 300 people bit as just a malicious rumor, he still carried things too far.

All right, so getting back to the paper, this was just a point that came to me that I thought was a good one.  And it’s one of the rare points that wasn’t me repeating what someone else had come up with!

After Octavian’s fleet was destroyed by a storm, Sextus made offerings to Neptune, and began calling himself the adopted son of the god; this may partially have been a mockery of Octavian’s habit of calling himself “Gaius Julius Caesar, son of the god.”

Maybe no one said that because it was too obvious, but…I dunno, I liked it.  Oh, I should point out that a large part of the paper was talking about how Sextus Pompeius was Octavian’s true arch-enemy, not Mark Antony, and Antony’s prevalence in our modern perception of the period was due to the success of the Augustan propaganda against him.  Sadly, that one was not my own point, and led to large sections where I cited the same modern book of analysis over and over again, ’cause no one else even freakin’ mentions poor old Sextus.  (Many still don’t even like to admit that Vergil wrote pro-Augustan propaganda into his poetry.)

So this next one is also me putting a few more details on a point that weren’t in anything else.  (Possibly, again, for being too weak or too obvious.)

Carrying it even one step further, Aeneas’ father Anchises dies on Sicily. At first glance, this might seem to have no connection; the civil war between Octavian and Sextus Pompeius was years after the death of Julius Caesar, and the son of Caesar’s rival Pompeius played no role in the assassination of the Dictator. But he had been both accused and convicted of complicity. No contemporary was likely to have forgotten the accusation against Sextus, and by putting Anchises’ death on Sextus’ base of Sicily, Vergil implies that Sextus actually had been involved in the conspiracy against Julius Caesar.

The bit about Anchises becoming a Julius Caesar figure after his death — which, now that I look at it, is not in the stuff I selected to quote here — was not my own observation, but from one of my other modern sources.  The weird thing about Anchises’ death, though, is that there’s no explanation of it.  Aeneas just says “that’s where I lost my father” and doesn’t explain how he died, or even mention the fact that he was, in fact, given a proper funeral.  Very odd.  I’m not sure if that was trying to be realistic to his feelings of grief, or because Vergil intended to add that in later, or if there was some artistic/propagandistic reason that I’m just not seeing.

This next bit, talking about how we don’t really know what Mark Antony was really like, is just one I really liked.

The rare texts from before Actium prove unhelpful in disentangling Antony from Augustus’ propaganda web. Julius Caesar’s Civil War provides no humanizing moments for any of the people involved, not even Caesar himself, let alone his supporter Antony. The one author whose pre-Augustan works do go into detail about Antony preceded the propaganda, showing it the way to progress in order to defame its target: Cicero’s rancorous Philippics lay every possible charge at Antony’s feet, to the point that Sir Ronald Syme asserted that their existence “imperils historical judgment and wrecks historical perspective.”

Yeah, after I actually managed to read Syme’s whole The Roman Revolution, I was darned well going to find an excuse to cite it!  (Though I also cited his lack of respect for Sextus Pompeius, but…this was a good quote!)

In this next one, from the beginning of part three, where I analyzed the Aeneid‘s place among other Augustan propaganda, needs one bit of set-up first.  In an earlier passage from the epic, particularly from the Battle of Actium on the Shield of Aeneas, the translation I used said something along the lines of “and there follows (oh the shame of it!) his Egyptian wife”.

In all this, the Aeneid aligned beautifully with the other Augustan texts.  What applied in histories and ‘official’ propaganda applied to Vergil as well: show Antony as the opponent from whom Octavian saved the Republic (once he claimed to restore said Republic, at least), and consign Sextus to the shadows as if unworthy of being remembered.  Sextus was difficult to disgrace, because he embodied Roman values, but Antony was an easy target, being overly fond of women (oh the shame of it!) and associated with the decadent East.*

* Powell, Virgil the Partisan, 141. Oddly, the only specific women Antony is ever discussed with are always his wife — or at least women he called his wife, since any wedding between Antony and Cleopatra would not have been valid in Rome.  (Especially since he already had a Roman wife!)  However, Augustus, too, had a reputation for being overly fond of women, only in his case it was everyone else’s wife, sister or daughter, in addition to his own wife. Even Antony mocked him for it.  Cf. Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, 84-85 (Divus Augustus 69). Perhaps among Roman men, being adulterous was preferable to being uxorious…

I liked sarcastically throwing that back in there somewhere.  Actually, Syme had something like that as well, but not something that fit neatly into my paper.  It was something about how Cicero’s point was that Antony had made a mockery of Roman decency by public displays of affection with his own wife.

That first source in the note, that’s the one that was my primary modern source.  (Well, duh, right?  It’s right there in the title that he accepts that Vergil was producing texts with a pro-Augustan bias.  It’s just that most of the authors I looked at insisted that he was actually only pretending to, that he was secretly anti-Augustan, yadda yadda yadda.  Because they seem to think that you can’t be partisan and a great artist at the same time.)

So then here’s one bit I’m really fond of from talking about how later writers (primarily ancient historians) judged Antony:

The lackluster Velleius Paterculus did not stop at imbibing the Augustan propaganda, but even went so far as to regurgitate Cicero’s vituperative line against Antony.

It bugs me that someone with a name that’s the Roman equivalent of Patroclos would be such an annoying, pointless, mindless slave to the establishment.  (But that’s just because I am, as I have often said before, a Patroclos fangirl.)

In talking about how many ancient historians tiptoed around Augustus in their work:

Some of this protection of Augustus’ reputation may well have been posthumous: Claudius’ (now lost) history was forced to skip over the civil war years, due to the hassling he was receiving from his mother and grandmother. If the princeps couldn’t write freely, how could anyone else?

Claudius’ mother was Octavia, sister of Augustus and widow of Antony, and his mother was Antonia, daughter of Mark Antony by Octavia, so…yeah, it’s understandable that they wouldn’t want him to write about the civil war years.  Still, if he had, and it had survived, I bet that would have been quite an interesting perspective on events!

OOH, now we’re almost at the end of my selected highlights!  (See, this computer doesn’t have Word, so I can’t open .doc files on it.  So I copied out snatches I liked at the time of my final read-over, and put them in an .rtf file so I could open them here.)  This one is talking about the fradulent Dictys and Dares accounts of the Trojan War.  What makes them fradulent?  They claim to be first-hand accounts.  One insisted that it had been written in Greek — but in Phoenician letters — and then buried on Crete with its author, Dictys, and when an earthquake laid open his tomb, the tablets were transliterated into Greek, and the texts taken to Nero, who added them to the Greek library, and then they were (at an unspecified time later) translated into Latin by the guy writing the introductory letter.  (His introductory letter and the prologue he’s translating give differing accounts of the discovery of the texts, btw.)  The other, Dares, is much shorter all around — and written from the Trojan side — and the letter (addressed to Sallust!) doesn’t explain how the texts survived.  The Latin versions were probably written around the 4th century AD, based on Greek originals from around the first century AD.  Probably.  A Greek fragment of Dictys was found around 1899/1900, written on the back of some tax returns from about 250 AD (or was it 205?), and I’m pretty sure another fragment of one of them, in Greek, was found much more recently, but I can’t for the life of me remember where I read that. *sigh*  Anyway!  Here’s what I wanted to quote from my treatment of them:

Both texts — as they survive in Latin — display ludicrous errors:  Catreus and Atreus are conflated into one person, Io is claimed to have been stolen from Sidon and taken to Argos rather than from Argos to Egypt, and Pelias is given reign over the Peloponnese instead of Iolcos.

Dictys Cretensis, Ephemeris Belli Troiani, in The Trojan War, ed. and trans. Frazer, 23, 53; Dares Phrygianus, De Excidio Troiae Historia, in The Trojan War, ed. and trans. Frazer, 133. Compare the list of abductions on page 53 with those in Herodotus, The History, 33-4 (1.1-2); the list is identical, apart from adding Ganymede, and making Io’s point of origin (Argos) her destination. Oddly, the text in Dictys is presented as a return argument, and yet there is no prior mention in the debate regarding past abductions; Alexander seems to be responding not to Menelaus or Ulysses, but to Herodotus himself, and misunderstanding the second mention of Io at the end of 1.2. (That alone, one would think, would have been enough to discredit the text, but perhaps no one had access to Herodotus at that time…)

That, of course, was why I wanted to tell Io’s story yesterday.  Seriously, though, if you can get hold of the text of Dictys (I think it is available online somewhere), compare that list of abductions to the one in Herodotus.  It’s blatant.  (And yet Dictys and Dares were not proven to be late fabrications until somewhere around the year 1800…)

Okay, one last self-quotation.  From the closing paragraph of the paper:

In composing an epic that repeated the major events of both the Iliad and the Odyssey, with a hero who had been purged of all the negative (and humanizing) qualities possessed by Achilleus and Odysseus, Vergil displayed the quintessential Roman skill: the ability to take something from another culture, alter it slightly, and thus make it Roman.

I feel like it was acceptable to talk about the plagiarist nature of Roman society like that because it was several times discussed in class how the Romans were always changing up their army to rip off the techniques of whoever had last defeated them.

Anyway, it wasn’t the greatest paper ever, and I hate that it’s my entire grade, but I think it definitely had some good moments.

Not so good is that I accidentally turned it in with one temporary endnote left, reading “Crap, I probably ought to cite these passages!”  I got rid of that and turned it in again, but since the passages were from the Aeneid, and I had already returned the Loeb edition of same (my paperback translation doesn’t have the original line numbers, only its own line numbers, which don’t remotely match up, which begs the question of why they’re there) I couldn’t add in the citations.  If he compares the notes of the two papers, I’m going to look like a total moron.

Then again, there are well over a hundred of them, so he probably won’t bother.

I hope.

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