Tag Archives: Discobolus

Roman Hero

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Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is depicted humorously in the Palazzo Massimo in a political cartoon by Paresh Nath, contrasted with prominent historical works of art: Augustus of Primaporta and The Lancellotti Discobolus.

In this political cartoon by Khaleej Times cartoonist Paresh Nath, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is illustrated alongside famous Roman sculptures of Augustus Caesar Octavianus and The Discobolus. The cartoon is an ironic depiction of the corrupt Italian politician juxtaposed against great figures in Italian historical culture, and references a larger historical context. In addition to the contrasts Nath attributes between the celebrated connotations of these prominent masterpieces and Silvio Berlusconi’s nefarious political career, wider connections can also be drawn among Berlusconi and another leader from Italy’s past: Benito Mussolini. Though far from identical leaders in practice, their respective rise and fall in political power share notable similarities. The egotistical demeanor with which both men governed Italy would indeed lead many to satirically label them as self-proclaimed Roman heroes.

The figures in Paresh Nath’s cartoon are depicted in the Palazzo Massimo, one of four parts of the National Roman Museum in Italy. This particular building holds “one of the world’s largest collections of ancient art” (National Roman Museum), featuring prominent Roman paintings, mosaics, and sculptures. The Discobolus, translated simply as “The Discus-thrower,” was originally produced by the 5th century Greek artist Myron (Sculpture of the Classical Period, 411). The Roman Empire adopted this masterpiece and reproduced countless copies, which were dispersed throughout villas as a symbol of cultured taste. “One of the most famous sculptures from ancient times” (Butler, 1), the Discus-thrower represents the perfect image of beauty, youth, athleticism, and balance, according to ancient Greek ideals. The specific Discobolus that is located in the National Museum of Rome today is the Lancellotti (or Palombara) Discobolus, which was “notoriously sold to Adolf Hitler in 1938 as a trophy of the Aryan race” (Butler, 1). The importance of this transaction will be revisited later in the analysis.

Even more intriguing is the inclusion of Augustus Caesar Octavian in the cartoon, wherein Berlusconi’s pose is notably identical to Octavian’s. This statue of the Roman Emperor is named Augustus of Primaporta, sans the small angel that accompanies him at his feet. There exist many different sculptures of the man, although this is certainly the most famed version. The decision to include this particular version is significant, because it was sculpted as an idealization after his death (Ford, 1). Throughout his life – and especially during his political career – Octavian only wanted himself depicted by others as humble and modest; thus, it is the only sculpture of him in military attire and with an allusion to the divine (although the angel is absent in Nath’s cartoon).

Successor to his great-uncle Julius Caesar, Octavian faced many adversaries at the inception of his rule, including those who murdered his great-uncle (“Augustus, Caesar Octavianus”, 88-89). The Battle of Actium concluded in his favor when his last rival, Marcus Antonius, was defeated (“Augustus Caesar Octavianus, 88-89). The sole remaining ruler of the Roman Empire, Octavian stabilized, expanded, colonized, and reformed the civilization, bringing about a golden age and a Pax Romana. During this time, Roman culture and commerce flourished under his reign and even well after his death (Augustus, Caesar Octavianus”, 89-90).

Over two millennia later, Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to power began with his entry into the real estate market during the post-war development boom of the 1960s (Silvio Berlusconi, 48). He followed this success by building a media empire throughout the 1970s and 1980s, developing of a massive private network television market (Silvio Berlusconi, 48). His status as a prominent media mogul would eventually propel him to the seat of government power in 1994. Berlusconi utilized his expansive media holdings to campaign for the office of the Italian Prime Minister, and won the position on the promise that he would clear out the corruption that plagued the Italian government. Despite convictions of financial crimes and allegations of further corruption that temporarily forced him from the seat, he remained in Parliament as the opposition party leader until his re-election to premiership in 2001 (Silvio Berlusconi, 49-50).

By 2004, Berlusconi had been Prime Minister of the longest-lasting Italian government in the history of the country, gaining the respect of many Italians for years to come. In what was perhaps Berlusconi’s most dictatorial maneuver of his premiership, after his re-election in 2008 he prioritized his government’s legislation to pass a law that granted the Prime Minister immunity to prosecution (Hooper). Of course, this law was swiftly dismantled by Italy’s constitutional court.  Unfortunately for his image, by 2011, years of corruption and scandal finally caught up to the unethical politician. Berlusconi resigned from the position amidst allegations of abuse of office, child sexual abuse, and tax fraud (Giuffrida). After being convicted of the tax fraud charges in 2013, he was forcefully removed from Parliament as well and banned from office. However, he would remain the iconographical leader of the Forza Italia party, which would renew his political strength in only five years.

In Nath’s illustration, Berlusconi is facetiously being placed on the same degree as Octavian. By drawing Berlusconi imitating Octavian’s pose, Nath is humorizing Berlusconi’s consistent practice of idealizing himself as a great man and an experienced politician. Even though both rulers promoted economic growth under their authority, Octavian actively sought to root out corruption in his government, while Berlusconi only claimed to do so (Encyclopedia of World Biography). In fact, most of the moral degradation of Berlusconi’s government derived from his own premiership. Despite this, Berlusconi has repeatedly upheld that he is “the best political leader in Europe and in the world” (BBC News). This egotistical attitude is contrasted with irony in Nath’s cartoon. His pants, labeled “Morality,” are drawn at his ankles, and his heart-spotted underwear is a clear innuendo to the 2011 child sexual abuse case he was involved in with the underage prostitute, “Ruby the Heart Stealer” (Squires). The crowd surrounding him represents the massive publicity that his numerous scandals provoked.

Furthermore, Berlusconi is also contrasted with the Discus-thrower. The cartoonist Nath even characterized them with the same body type, a simple action that degrades The Discobolus from its status as one of the most prominent historical works of art. Again, Nath is utilizing irony to spuriously situate Berlusconi at the same level of prominence as a historical masterpiece; however, one subject is famous, while the other is infamous. As discussed previously, The Discobolus was crafted out of the ancient Greek notion of physical perfection and ideal form. It is now regarded as one of the greatest works of art ever created, which gives more power to Nath’s juxtaposition of the piece against the public humiliation and shame that riddled Berlusconi’s late political career.

The 1930’s era political cartoon, “Telling the World” by John Knott depicts the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini during his 1932 address to the citizens of Turin, Italy. Its accompanying editorial in the Dallas Morning News, “Mussolini and the Crisis,” provides more universal context referencing the content of the speech. A strong connection exists between the John Knott’s “Telling the World” and Paresh Nath’s “Roman Hero”. Mussolini’s Turin speech took place during the tenth anniversary of the Fascist Party’s political takeover of Italy. In an effort to legitimize his party’s political scheme as well as his dictatorship in the eyes of the citizens of Italy, Mussolini utilized ancient Roman architecture and art – such as the statues in Nath’s cartoon – heavily in his fascist propaganda (Brangers, 125). His goals were to cast the Fascist party as unifiers under a new Rome and to associate himself with the great Emperor Augustus Caesar Octavianus (Brangers, 125). “The State before the individual” was a belief that both the ancient Romans and the Fascists seemed to share. Mussolini promoted the construction of works of art glorifying the united Roman Empire under Octavian throughout Italy as part of his propaganda machine. He even initiated major archeological projects to uncover four ancient Roman buildings that he hoped would epitomize the magnificence of ancient Rome and of his own ruling. These projects also had a practical purpose other than ideological propaganda, however. The plans to clear old buildings and roads in order to uncover the ancient buildings also included arrangements to build wider roads and piazzas to better accommodate the rapidly growing population in the city of Rome (Brangers, 125). The demolition and construction of these locations also granted jobs to many laborers that were desperate for employment in a deteriorating economy.

In addition to this, the famous Lancellotti (or Palombara) Discobolus – as mentioned previously – was sold to Adolf Hitler in 1938 for five million lira (Italy’s currency at that time) by the struggling Italian Lancellotti family (Sooke, 1). It was placed in the Glyptothek museum in Munich for all Germans to view, however it was returned to Italy in 1948 after World War II’s conclusion. The Nazi leader had taken large interest in the marble sculpture as supremely representative of Germany’s then-visual ideology of the “master race” (Sooke, 1) due to its portrayal as a beautiful, ideal white male body in athletic form. Personally, Hitler wanted to be associated with the era that the original piece was built during: 5th Century BC, the golden age of Classical Greece (Sooke, 1). He also desired to bring with the sculpture the values it embodied: balance, athleticism, and of course, male beauty. Similarly to how Mussolini utilized archeological projects and ancient Roman architecture for fascist propaganda purposes, Hitler used this statue to propagandize the Nazis’ idealization of the perfect physical Aryan form.

Finally, direct ties can even be drawn between Silvio Berlusconi and Benito Mussolini. When initially forming his Forza Italia political party, Berlusconi allied himself with the leader of a disbanded neo-fascist group (Silvio Berlusconi, 49). This disrupted his 1992 campaign briefly when the leader of the group praised Mussolini as “the century’s finest statesman” (Silvio Berlusconi, 49). Berlusconi managed to overcome criticisms as a result of this comment and emerged as Italy’s Prime Minister; however, his charismatic influence could not shield him from scathing backlash when he himself praised Mussolini as a good leader on Holocaust Memorial Day in 2013 (BBC News).

Although enough differences exist between the two men to reject characterizing Berlusconi as a repetition of Mussolini, there are similarities between their efforts to gain initial political standing. The Italian public’s discontent with established institutions and the country’s poor economic standing offered both men the opportunity to gain power through promises of change and rectification. They utilized the media to establish political footing and to “cultivate a direct bond with Italians” (Ben-Ghiat), a bond that was severed when each was disgracefully forced from their respective positions of power.

Despite certain fundamental disparities between the two leaders – Mussolini was a socialist at his core, Berlusconi a self-made capitalist – they were both severely corrupt in their own ways. It’s no coincidence that the mockumentary film, “I’m Back”, which  portrays the late Italian dictator staging a modern comeback through a darkly humorous gradient, was released in the midst of Italy’s 2018 Parliamentary elections (Poggioli). The film firmly alludes to Silvio Berlusconi’s own surprising political resurgence through his Forza Italia party in the elections. This was highlighted by the film’s Mussolini opposing the 600,000 African immigrants seeking asylum in Italy, “…you won’t find it so funny when an African steals your job” (Poggioli). The comment bears marked resemblance to the intense anti-immigration rhetoric and policy proposals imposed by Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition during the Parliamentary elections.

Unlike the statues in the Palazzo Massimo, the legacies of Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi as leaders are permeated with dishonor and public reproach. Far from Roman heroes, their deeds and convictions are in stark contrast to the accomplishments of Octavian and the philosophies of Myron. Paresh Nath’s political cartoon focuses on the convoluted morality of one of Italy’s longest running leaders, while addressing the dilemmas of the country’s past that have resurfaced in the present.

Works Cited

“Augustus, Caesar Octavianus.” Ancient Greece and Rome: An Encyclopedia for Students, edited by Carroll Moulton, vol. 1, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1998, pp. 87-91. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX2897200063/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=a6828a46. Accessed 22 May 2018.

Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. “An American Authoritarian.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 10 Aug. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/08/american-authoritarianism-under-donald-trump/495263/.

“Berlusconi Praises Mussolini on Holocaust Memorial Day.” BBC News, BBC, 27 Jan. 2013, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-21222341.

“Berlusconi, Silvio.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, edited by Tracie Ratiner, 2nd ed., vol. 25, Gale, 2005, pp. 48-50. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3446400032/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=bd181530. Accessed 20 May 2018.

Brangers, Susan L. Fugate. Political Propaganda and Archaeology: The Mausoleum of Augustus in the Fascist Era. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Aug. 2013, www.ijhssnet.com/journals/Vol_3_No_16_Special_Issue_August_2013/15.pdf.

Butler, Simon. “The Discobolus.” Hidden History, 30 June 2018, www.hiddenhistory.co.uk/2017/03/28/the-discobolus/.

Ford, Josh. “Augustus of Prima Porta.” Ancient Art, 24 Apr. 2015, ancientart.as.ua.edu/augustus-of-prima-porta/.

Giuffrida, Angela. “After Tax Fraud, Sex Scandals and Heart Surgery Silvio Berlusconi Is Back.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 12 Nov. 2017, www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/12/silvio-berlusconi-after-tax-fraud-sex-scandals-heart-surgery-back-sicily-election.

History.com Staff. “Augustus.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009, www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/emperor-augustus.

Hooper, John. “Silvio Berlusconi: Immunity Granted by Parliament Could Yet Be Voided by Top Court.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 Feb. 2009, www.theguardian.com/world/2009/feb/18/silvio-berlusconi-immunity-prosecution.

“In Quotes: Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi in His Own Words.” BBC News, BBC, 2 Aug. 2013, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-15642201.

Knott, John. Telling the World, 25 Oct. 1932.

Leslie, Larry Z. “Worldwide Perspective.” Celebrity in the 21st Century: A Reference Handbook, ABC-CLIO, 2011, pp. 75-103. Contemporary World Issues. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX2532800012/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=94ef7b2d. Accessed 20 May 2018.

“Mussolini and the Crisis.” Dallas Morning News, 25 Oct. 1932. Page 2.

infoweb.newsbank.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=D6EV58HUMTUyMjAyNzk5NC4zMTM5OTM6MToxMjoxMjguODMuNjMuMjA&p_action=doc&s_lastnonissuequeryname=5&d_viewref=search&p_queryname=5&p_docnum=1&p_docref=v2:0F99DDB671832188@EANX-10483DC3263E3494@2427006-10483DC38F61D2DC@15-10483DC58BE0310B@Mussolini%20and%20the%20Crisisp.

“National Roman Museum – Useful Information – Rome & Vatican Museums.” Entradas Museos Vaticanos: Reservaciones Museos Vaticanos – Roma, www.rome-museum.com/national-roman-museum.php.

O’Mahony, Mike. “In the Shadow of Myron: The Impact of the Discobolus on Representations of Olympic Sport from Victorian Britain to Contemporary China.” Taylor & Francis, 8 May 2012, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09523367.2012.657628?src=recsys.

“Sculpture of the Classical Period.” Arts and Humanities Through the Eras, edited by Edward I. Bleiberg, et al., vol. 2: Ancient Greece and Rome 1200 B.C.E.-476 C.E. Gale, 2005, pp. 410-420. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3427400368/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=984ec1f8. Accessed 22 May 2018.

“Silvio Berlusconi, Roman Hero.” World Scene Today, 26 Feb. 2011, ericyoungonline.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/silvio-berlusconi-roman-hero/.

Sooke, Alastair. “Culture – The Discobolus: Greeks, Nazis and the Body Beautiful.” BBC News, BBC, 24 Mar. 2015, www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150324-hitlers-idea-of-the-perfect-body.

Squires, Nick. “Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi Faces April Trial for Relations with ‘Ruby the Heart Stealer’.” Christian Science Monitor, 15 Feb. 2011. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=58113259&site=ehost-live.

Sylvers, Eric. “Italy’s Berlusconi Ordered to Stand Trial for Alleged Bribery.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 26 Mar. 2018, www.wsj.com/articles/italys-berlusconi-ordered-to-stand-trial-for-alleged-bribery-1522073623.

Sylvia, Poggioli. “Anti-Migrant Slogans Are Overshadowing Italy’s Election Race.” Morning Edition (NPR), 21 Feb. 2018. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=6XN201802211017&site=ehost-live.

Trentinella, Rosemary. “Roman Portrait Sculpture: Republican through Constantinian.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I.e. The Met Museum, Oct. 2003, www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ropo/hd_ropo.htm.

“Trials and Allegations Involving Silvio Berlusconi.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 May 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trials_and_allegations_involving_Silvio_Berlusconi.

“Work Discus Thrower or ‘Discobolus.’” Law Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon | Louvre Museum | Paris, www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/discus-thrower-or-discobolus.

Watch Out for Greek Debt!

The cartoon Watch Out for Greek Debt! depicts the famous Greek statue Discobolus by Myron with “Greece” written on it, ready to throw a discus symbolizing debt at other, cowering European countries.
The cartoon Watch Out for Greek Debt! depicts the famous Greek statue Discobolus by Myron with “Greece” written on it, ready to throw a discus symbolizing debt at other, cowering European countries.

The political cartoon Watch Out for Greek Debt! depicts the famous Greek statue Discobolus, with the word “Greece” written on it, ready to throw a discus, which symbolizes debt, at other cowering European countries (Sooke). The statue is posed as if it is about to hurl the discus, and all of the statues around it are ducking to avoid getting hit. This cartoon symbolizes how the other countries are avoiding getting “hit” by the negative consequences of Greek debt and having all of their political-economic progress regress (“Watch out for Greek Debt!”). The cartoon emphasizes the potentially devastating effects of Greek debt for other European countries in the Eurozone.

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political partnership between twenty-eight European countries that was created in the aftermath of World War II. The intent behind the creation of the EU is that countries that trade with each other become economically interdependent and therefore more likely to avoid conflict. The establishment of the EU brought about the creation of the euro, the single currency used across the twenty-eight countries (“The EU in brief”). Greece is one of the many members of the EU, along with Ireland, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Portugal, to name a few (“Countries in the EU and EEA”). Greece in particular, however, is singled out in this cartoon as the most vulnerable as well as the most threatening member of the bunch.

Greece is in the midst of a debt crisis that could potentially crumble the economies of its European neighbors. After Wall Street crashed in 2008, Greece became the center of Europe’s debt crisis. Greece admitted that it had been understating its deficit figures for years and suddenly found itself shut out from borrowing in financial markets, leading the country toward bankruptcy. This sudden decline put Europe on the verge of a new financial crisis. To avoid collapse, the financial troika – the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission – issued the first of two international bailouts for Greece, which would eventually total more than $264 billion in today’s exchange rates. “Greece’s relations with Europe are in a fragile state, and several of its leaders are showing impatience” (“Greece’s Debt Crisis Explained”).

The other countries depicted in the cartoon are not chosen at random either. Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain – collectively called “The PIGS”– are known for having “binged on cheap debt” and “allowed citizens’ benefits to go well beyond the means of their governments.” In 2010, the PIGS were going bankrupt at a fast rate and threatened the continued existence of the euro and the entire European project. However, since then, all of the PIGS except for Greece are returning to economic health (Dawber). Now Greece is putting them at risk of relapsing into economic instability, threatening the euro in the process. This is symbolized in the cartoon as “Greece” throwing a discus of “debt” at its neighboring European countries.

There is coincidental irony in the name of the statue, Discobolus, and the subject matter involved. The suffix “obolus” means “a silver coin or unit of weight equal to one sixth of a drachma, formerly used in ancient Greece” (“obolus”). It is ironic that a discus that symbolizes a Greek drachma has “debt” written on it, as if foreshadowing that Greece being a part of the EU and using the euro as its currency has a formidable future of debt crisis.

The issues illustrated in Watch Out for Greek Debt! have a lot of similarity to the issues depicted in the political cartoon If They Would Exchange Presents by John Knott (Knott 2). Published on Christmas Eve 1931, Knott’s cartoon shows Uncle Sam of the United States offering a Christmas gift of war debt revisions to a queen representing Europe; and in the generous spirit of the season, she is offering the gift of disarmament in exchange.

In the twenty-first century, Greece is in debt to other countries much like Germany was in the aftermath of World War I. In the 1930s, the United States wanted Germany and the rest of Europe to disarm so that the funds going toward armament could instead go toward debt repayment; thus, in If They Would Exchange Presents, Europe’s gift to the U.S. was disarmament. In Knott’s cartoon, Germany, along with the rest of the indebted European nations, was asking for war debt revisions so that their debt load wasn’t so crippling. Germany was blamed for the damages and costs of World War I and was required to pay back the costs to the Allied nations. Repayment obligations were so onerous that they needed a moratorium and debt revisions to ever back on their feet. Similarly, in Watch Out for Greek Debt!, Greece is held responsible for threatening Europe’s economy, and needs bailouts for its crippling debt like Germany was asking for war debt revisions. “The bailout money mainly goes toward paying off Greece’s international loans, rather than making its way into the economy. And the government still has a staggering debt load that it cannot begin to pay down unless a recovery takes hold” (“Greece’s Debt Crisis Explained”).

The humor of comparing these two cartoons, and particularly comparing twenty-first century Germany and Greece, is that Germany is now the poster-child for Greece to model itself after. “Germany has fewer outstanding tax debts than any other country in Europe, while Greece has more than any other. That difference not only helps Germany enjoy a far more fiscally sound position than Greece, but it offers a stark contrast between a disciplined government and one that historically has been hardly disciplined” (O’Brien). It is ironic that Germany, which once was economically unstable and deeply indebted to other countries, is now an example of European economic health, the example to which Greece aspires.

Lastly, in Watch Out for Greek Debt!, Greece has the potential of putting contemporary Europe in as much debt and economic instability as in the 1930s because of the region’s shared economic interdependence on the euro. The Knott cartoon shows Europe of that era requesting war debt revisions because it is in an economic rut. Contemporary Europe could potentially descend into similar economic turmoil because if Greece were to collapse, then the euro could collapse with them, causing a domino effect.

Works Cited

“Countries in the EU and EEA.” GOV.UK. Gov.UK, 24 July 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Dawber, Alistair. “While Greece Flails, Are the Rest of the Stricken Pigs Taking Off?” Independent. Independent, 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“The EU in Brief.” Europa. European Commission, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

“Greece’s Debt Crisis Explained.” The New York Times. New York Times, 31 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Knott, John. “If They Would Exchange Presents.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 24 Dec. 1931, sec. 2: 10. Print.

“Obolus.” American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 5th ed. N.p.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. The Free Dictionary. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

O’Brien, Matt. “7 Key Things to Know about Greece’s Debt Crisis and What Happens Next.” The Washington Post. N.p., 5 July 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Sooke, Alastair. “The Discobolus: Greeks, Nazis and the Body Beautiful.” BBC. BBC, 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“Watch out for Greek Debt!” Cartoon. Enikos. N.p., 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.