Camões, Luís Vaz de
Luís Vaz de Camões 1524?-1580
(Also transliterated as Camoens) Portuguese poet and playwright.
Author of the epic Os Lusíadas (1572; The Lusiads), Camões is considered the national poet of Portugal and its greatest lyricist. A glorification of the Portuguese voyages of discovery, The Lusiads portrays explorer Vasco da Gama's maritime journey to India using the forms of classical, heroic literature. Camões also wrote numerous pieces of posthumously published lyric poetry, which present his principal theme of the tension between sensual and spiritual love. Many of these are suffused with a deep melancholy rooted in Camões's sufferings while in exile, and are noted for their simplicity, formal excellence, and passionate intensity. In addition to Camões's enormous influence on Portuguese poetry, he also was a minor dramatist who composed three plays, comedies that combine classical and Portuguese dramatic forms.
While the veracity of many events in Camões's life is uncertain, he is thought to have been born in Lisbon in 1524 or 1525 into an aristocratic but destitute Galician family. He likely attended the University of Coimbra, there acquiring some of his considerable knowledge of classical literature and philosophy. A member of King John III's court in Lisbon, he was by some accounts banished in 1547 upon discovery of his affair with Caterina de Ataíde, a lady-in-waiting to the queen. Camões then began his military career in North Africa, losing an eye during his tour of duty in Morocco. He returned to Lisbon in 1550, and was pardoned by the king in 1553 after assaulting a royal official in the streets. Camões soon after departed for India as a soldier for the crown. He was subsequently assigned to a post in Macao, serving as trustee of personal effects for the dead and absent. While returning to Goa in western India after being accused of misconduct, Camões was shipwrecked in the Mekong Delta, but managed to save himself and his manuscript of The Lusiads. The impoverished Camões then made his way to Mozambique where he was found by the Portuguese historian Diogo do Couto who assisted him in his return to Lisbon. Back in Portugal by 1570, Camões saw his epic published in 1572. That year he also was awarded a royal pension for his service, but was paid only haphazardly. He died June 10, 1580 in Lisbon.
Camões's lyric poetry consists of numerous pieces in the classical verse forms of eclogue, ode, elegy, and sonnet, as well purely Portuguese cançoes, esparsas, motos, and redondilhas. Such works range from elegant love lyrics to melancholy expressions of anguish as they demonstrate Camões' theme of the discord between idealized and sensual love. The title of Camões's encyclopedic epic, The Lusiads, is taken from the Latin term for Portugal, Lusitania. Written in ten cantos of ottava rima, the work invokes the great fifteenth-century journey of Portuguese discovery undertaken by Vasco da Gama, celebrating the glorious deeds and triumphs over nature of this explorer. While it makes prophetic reference to Portuguese history, The Lusiads vilifies the commercial aspect of da Gama's venture and attacks the followers of Islam—a religion whose adherents Camões perceived as the principal threat to Christianity. While pursuing a Christian theme of universal love, Camões fills his epic with figures from pagan mythology, placing the fate of da Gama and his men in the hands of the Olympians. With assistance from Venus and the opposition of Bacchus, the sailors make their way around Africa. Impeded at the Cape of Good Hope by the giant Adamastor, who vows to destroy them upon their return, the Portuguese explorers face violent storms, shipwreck, and war before reaching the object of their quest—landfall in India.
The appearance of The Lusiads in 1572 created something of a sensation, and after Camões's death the publication of his lyric works prompted increasing esteem for the poet. As Camões's poetry began to appear in print, many attempts were made to collect his shorter poems and to exclude those pieces that were apocryphal; a process that continued into the twentieth century. Judging from these works, critics have deemed Camões to be Portugal's finest lyric poet, praising the emotional intensity and virtuosity of his writing. Meanwhile, scholars have continued to view The Lusiads as the great epic poem of the Renaissance, perceiving in the work a harmonious balance between Camões's classical allusiveness and the sensual realism of his descriptive language. Still, despite its fame in Portugal, The Lusiads is less well-known elsewhere. More recently, critics have acknowledged that The Lusiads and other writings by Camões have made a significant impact on a number of English-speaking writers as they continue to exert a considerable influence on the literature of Portugal and Brazil.
Os Lusíadas [The Lusiads] 1572
Rhythmas de Luís de Camões [Camoens: The Lyricks] 1595
Poems from the Portuguese of Luís de Camõens 1803
Obras completas. 5 vols. 1946-47
Collected Poems 1957
Auto dos Enfatriões (drama) 1587
Auto de Filodemo (drama) 1587
*Includes the drama Auto del-Reí Seleuco.
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SOURCE: “Camoens,” in The Inspiration of Poetry, The Macmillan Company, 1910, pp. 58-84.
[In the following essay, Woodberry describes Camões's personality and the degree to which his character and imagination inform The Lusiads and his lyric poetry.]
Camoens, the maker of the only truly modern epic, offers an illustration of poetic power which is to me one of the most interesting, although the foreignness of his subject-matter and the extraordinary lameness of its English translations make difficult obstacles to our appreciation; but for that very reason he has the happiest fortune that can fall to a poet in the fact that familiarity ever endears him the more. He is a less pure type of the flame of genius than Marlowe; poetic energy appears in him less a spiritual power dwelling in its own realm of imagination; but, on the other hand, his career admits us to a nearer view of a poet's human life, to what actually befalls the man so doubtfully endowed with that inward passion of life, in the days and weeks and years of his journey. Scarce any poet is so autobiographical in the strict sense. Others have made themselves the subject of their song; but usually, like Shelley, they exhibit an ideal self seen under imaginative lights and through the soul's atmosphere, and in these self-portraits half the lines are aspiration realized, the self they dream of; but Camoens shows in his verse as he was in...
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SOURCE: “Camoens,” in Silhouettes, William Heinemann, Ltd., 1925, pp. 33-9.
[In the following essay, Gosse summarizes the life of Camões: “Portugal's greatest national author.”]
Persistent industry of research has not enabled Portuguese scholarship to fix the exact date of the birth of Portugal's greatest national author, but there seems little doubt that the year was 1524. We were therefore at liberty to celebrate the fourth centenary whenever we pleased, so that it does not slip our memory until after last December. Mr. Aubrey Bell—whose admirable studies in Portuguese, or (as we used to say) in the Portingall, language cannot be too warmly praised—marked the moment by publishing a succinct biography of the poet, which tells us all that is certainly known about him. This is an occasion for recollecting Froude's delicious impertinence about the Cornish saint, of whom he recounted “all we know, and more than all, yet nothing to what the angels know.”
No writer has been, it appears, the victim of more fairytales than Camoens, and these are impatiently brushed aside by Mr. Aubrey Bell. But when all that is merely legend or fiction is cleared away, we are left feeling that the life of the author of The Lusiads must have been romantic far beyond the wont of literary lives. The spirit of the great navigators was in him; he wandered in Africa and Asia; he was a soldier...
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SOURCE: A review of Os Lusíadas, in Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. 29, No. 23, June 8, 1946, pp. 42-3.
[In the following review of The Lusiads, Bacon surveys Camões's life and highlights those elements of the poem that will appeal to modern tastes.]
This noble edition of the noble Portuguese epic [Os Lusíadas] in the original is the crowning work of one of the greatest of Romance language scholars. Professor [J. D. M.] Ford, who has already edited Sir Richard Fanshawe's fine seventeenth-century translation of the poem, must feel that he has done good service to literature and to mankind. And what more can a learned man desire? No doubt there will be the usual jeering from the testy race of critics. Slips are inevitable and will be pointed out with pleasure by persons who do not expose themselves by undertaking the enormously difficult. Judgments and testes differ, and there may be matter for controversy. But this book sets a splendid capstone on a fine career.
“I will not go so far as to defend Camoes,” said Hazlitt rather turgidly—I forget against what, nor does it greatly matter. The Portuguese poet has no particular need of assistance from that quarter or any other. Changes in taste and opinion leave Camoes untouched. And after nearly four centuries men absorbed in the fashion or doctrine of their own time return to him with an enthusiasm not unlike...
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SOURCE: “The Place of Mythology in The Lusiads,” in Comparative Literature, Vol. 6, No. 2, Spring, 1954, pp. 97-122.
[In the following essay, Pierce probes the complex scheme of Camões's supernatural machinery in The Lusiads, surveying the critical history of the poem in the process.]
It is a surprising fact that a poem of the stature of Camões' epic, which has for so long been the subject of much comment and criticism, should still present a major problem of interpretation.1 The problem may be put briefly: Camões envisages his theme from the comprehensive standpoint common to his age, that is, he sees human history as including and being ultimately justified by a divine plan; but this plan manifests itself through a whole pagan supernatural scheme inserted between Vasco da Gama and the Christian God. What does Camões mean by this unusual combination of elements not found in any of his contemporaries in the epos?2 Most critics show at some point of their exegesis an uneasiness at the way the complicated pattern unfolds itself, and have never felt quite sure what the total picture of The Lusiads stands for. This is partly because Camões presents the reader with a new and startling relationship of the truth of history and religion and the familiar adornments of poetry. The uncertainty is also due, one must admit, to the great success of Camões in giving...
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SOURCE: “Strangford's Poems from the Portuguese of Luis de Camoens,” in Comparative Literature, Vol. 23, No. 4, Fall, 1971, pp. 289-311.
[In the following essay, Letzring comments on Perry Clinton Sidney Smythe's free translations of Camões's verse in Poems from the Portuguese of Luis de Camoens, the first collection of the poet's lyrics in English.]
Even in his own Portugal, the reputation of Luis de Camoens has always rested primarily on his epic The Lusiads. Despite the fact that he is in no sense inferior as a lyric poet, his numerous canzones, elegies, odes, sonnets, and other short poems have always taken second place to his epic. And although the Lusiads, first published in 1572, was early translated into several languages and became known throughout Europe, the same is not the case with the lyrics, published posthumously in 1585. The English came to know the Lusiads as early as 1655 with the translation of Sir Richard Fanshawe; another translation by William Julius Mickle was published in 1776 and reprinted ten times before the end of the nineteenth century when a number of new translations appeared. But it was not until 1803 that English readers were made aware of Camoens as a lyric poet. This was through the small volume of translations by Percy Clinton Sidney Smythe, Sixth Viscount Strangford, Poems from the Portuguese of Luis de Camoens....
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SOURCE: “Christened Classicism in Paradise Lost and The Lusiads,” in Comparative Literature, Vol. 24, No. 3, Fall, 1972, pp. 338-56.
[In the following essay, Sims considers parallels in the supernatural machinery of The Lusiads and John Milton's Paradise Lost.]
Milton may well have known the Portuguese epic Os Lusíadas or Sir Richard Fanshawe's Englishing of it or both. Although this is a tentative declaration of faith that cannot at present be indisputably proved, the faith is not a blind one. Parallels between specific aspects of Luis de Camoëns's and Milton's supernatural machinery as well as between the theoretical assumptions which seem to have motivated both poets' use of that machinery are, I think, more than coincidental. But before consideration of such parallels I wish to give, in anticipation, “an answer to every man that asketh a reason” of the faith that Milton knew Camoëns's poem.
There is a discouraging lack of external evidence. Neither those scholars who have argued for Camonian influence on Milton nor those who have dismissed apparent echoes as coincidental or as attributable to common sources have gone beyond evidence within the poetry.1 There is no evidence of Milton's ability to read Portuguese, no reference in his works or extant letters to Camoëns or to Fanshawe. He was blind for about three years before...
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SOURCE: “A Poet and His Nation: The Foreground Myth of Os Lusíadas,” in Texas Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 4, Winter, 1972, pp. 19-31.
[In the following essay, Sousa discusses Camões's role as a poet and a representative of the Portuguese nation in The Lusiads.]
My title, “a poet and his nation: the foreground myth of Os Lusíadas,” is quite accurately descriptive of what I have chosen to discuss. What I hope to share with you is a close look at one aspect in the overall structure of Os Lusíadas: Camões' treatment, within his poem, of himself in his role as the celebrator of Portuguese national glory, in his role, then, as the poet—the foreground voice—of the poem we are commemorating. That analysis is best begun with the filling in of a bit of background material, which I shall attempt to do first—in the process, I hope, making clear precisely what I mean by “The Foreground Myth of Os Lusíadas.”
I should like to begin the background material with a brief look at some of the conventions of classical epic poetry, many of which were later incorporated into the Renaissance epic tradition and some of which were used by Camões in a very personalized way. It has always been known that the classical epic poem had its origins in oral poetry, that is, in a pre-literary form in which an oral poet, or singer, reciting his narrative to an...
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SOURCE: “Toward an Understanding of Camões' Presence as a Lyric Poet in the Nineteenth-Century American Press,” in Luso-Brazilian Review, Vol. 17, No. 2, Winter, 1980, pp. 171-85.
[In the following essay, Andrews details the vogue of interest in Camões and his poetry in nineteenth-century America.]
Luís Vaz de Camões was highly visible on the American literary scene very early in the 1800s, thanks to his having become so even earlier on that of Great Britain. He was, insofar as the English language is concerned, a British discovery, as a lyricist and as an epicist. His American presence is a direct result of the avidity and rapidity with which American publishers—of the periodical press as well as of books—supplied an American public eager for British materials. American piracy of British publications on a scale nothing less than grand has been studied to a degree which renders further documentation unnecessary here, where the important theft is that of the Lord Viscount Strangford's amorous and unfortunate but always gallant lyric Camões, a figure who began his rise to popularity in the United States in the same year that he did in Britain: 1803.1
Monica Letzring has pointed out “… In 1803, the weekly Port Folio reprinted the entire ‘Remarks on the Life and Writings of Camoens’ [by Strangford], … and in various other issues through 1805 reprinted...
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SOURCE: “History and Prophecy in Camões's Os Lusíadas,” in Luso-Brazilian Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, Winter, 1985, pp. 145-50.
[In the following essay, Dixon studies Camões's blending of prophesy and history in The Lusiads.]
Few would disagree with the assertion that Camões's Os Lusíadas,1 as history, is an extremely imaginative history, formed at least as much by the poet's mentality as it is by the events it records.2 Yet the difference between Os Lusíadas and other, more properly “historical” records is one of degree, and not of kind. If we define history as discourse about past events rather than as the events themselves, then any history must bear the imaginative imprint of its narrator. The happenings of a particular time span are like a crude mass of stone, with no significant shape, and the historian is like a sculptor. The moment he decides that some facts are relevant to his account and others are not, he in effect begins chipping away at the stone of past events, imposing his own peculiar shape upon them.
Recent investigation into the nature of historical discourse suggests that history is essentially the telling of a story, and as such it is subject to some of the same imaginative constructs we find in fiction.3 The historian is apt to structure his narrative along the lines of the traditional poetic...
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SOURCE: “The Place of Camões in the European Cultural Conscience,” in Empire in Transition: The Portuguese World in the Time of Camões, edited by Alfred Hower and Richard A. Preto-Rodas, University Presses of Florida, 1985, pp. 194-203.
[In the following essay, Melczer focuses on the romantic, European discovery of Camões's work in the nineteenth century.]
The title of this paper, in which we will look at a few aspects of the European fortune of Camões and of the Lusíadas, requires some further clarification.1 What follows is intended primarily as a contribution to the study of the prodigious rise of Camões in the firmament of nineteenth-century Europe. I limit myself to that period in the belief that the subsequent and even present-day unquestioned eminence on which Camões stands in Europe has its roots in that nineteenth-century revival.
In the sea of studies dealing with the great Portuguese poet, three works stand out that pertain, in a peculiar way—and with no undue disconsideration of numerous other contributions of importance—to our subject: Richard Burton's two-volume Camoens: His Life and His Lusiads,2 in which the nineteenth-century English translations are reviewed (next to Burton's own translation of the work); J.-J.-A. Bertrand's “Camoëns en Allemagne,” published in the Revue de littérature comparée in...
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SOURCE: “The Adamastor and the Spirit-Spout: Echoes of Camoens in Herman Melville's Moby Dick,” in From Dante to García Márquez: Studies in Romance Literatures and Linguistics, edited by Gene H. Bell-Villada, et al., Williams College, 1987, pp. 114-32.
[In the following essay, Severino traces the influence of The Lusiads on Herman Melville's Moby Dick.]
In the middle of the last century, an American man of letters who had gone to sea as a young man became acquainted with the work of a Portuguese poet of the sixteenth century, like him, a former sailor and a lover of the sea.1 Out of this encounter across the centuries sprung forth a novel which many consider the greatest by an American writer and one of the major sea epics of world literature.
The presence of Luis de Camoens (1524-1580) and of his epic poem The Lusiads (1572) in the work of Herman Melville (1819-1891), especially in Moby Dick (1851), has scarcely been studied. As Luther S. Mansfield, a Melville scholar, wrote in a personal letter in 1963: “I am sure there has never been a full study of Camoens' influence, and probably any American would feel that this required more knowledge of Camoens than he is likely to have.”2 Professor Mansfield, in a critical edition of Moby Dick he prepared in 1952, together with Howard P. Vincent, had himself been...
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SOURCE: “The Lusiads: From National Epic to Universal Myth,” in UNESCO Courier, No. 4, April, 1989, pp. 26-7.
[In the following essay, Lourenço emphasizes Camões's blending of the Portuguese voyages of discovery with the Petrarchan myth of universal love in The Lusiads.]
The Western maritime discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in which Portugal played a leading role, were the culmination of an odyssey which had begun in ancient times. They extended the bounds of the adventure embarked on long before by the Phoenicians and the Greeks to all the seas of the world. The cycle of modern discoveries was symbolically closed in 1520 by Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese navigator who sailed for the King of Spain. After him there began an era of methodical, scientific exploration of what the twentieth-century poet Fernando Pessoa called the “endless sea”, the mare nostrum of the Romans enlarged to global dimensions.
If this image exaggerates the real maritime area traversed by the navigators of Portugal, Italy, Spain and other European nations between the beginning of the fifteenth century and Magellan's voyage, it epitomizes the difference between the voyages of the Ancients and those of the modern era. In the first decade of the sixteenth century, Westerners acquired firm evidence that the Earth is round, and knew from “knowledge which owes everything...
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SOURCE: “Luís de Camões: The Eventful Life and Times of Portugal's Great Epic Poet,” in UNESCO Courier, No. 4, April, 1989, pp. 17-25.
[In the following essay, Moura characterizes Camões and his poem The Lusiads, highlighting contradictions and oppositions in the man, his age, and the epic.]
The little that is known about the life of Luís de Camões can be summed up in a few lines. He was probably born in Lisbon in 1525, but even this is not known for certain. Nothing is known about what he studied or where (possibly in Coimbra) and next to nothing about his life until he set sail for the Orient, where he spent seventeen equally obscure years. A few biographical hints can be gleaned from his writings. It seems, for example, that he had a rather hectic love-life, and it was perhaps because of his way of life that he was banished from the court as a young man. He is known to have served as a soldier in Ceuta, Morocco, around 1547-1548 and to have lost his right eye there.
In 1552, he spent several months in prison in Lisbon for taking part in a brawl and after his release in the spring of 1553 embarked for India on three years' service, as was the rule at the time. While in India, he took part in a number of military expeditions. Sometime between 1556 and 1558, he set out for the Far East, perhaps as a junior official responsible for taking care of the effects of people who...
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SOURCE: “The Epic Curse and Camões' Adamastor,” in Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton, Princeton University Press, 1993, pp. 99-130.
[In the following excerpt, Quint examines the figure of Adamastor in The Lusiads as “a demonic composite of the natural and human foes faced by the Portuguese imperial enterprise.”]
In the fifth canto of the Lusíadas, Vasco da Gama is the guest of the African king of Melinde on the east coast of Africa. He narrates the story up to this point of his voyage from Portugal: Camões' obvious models are Odysseus telling his adventures to Alcinous in Phaeacia and Aeneas recounting his wanderings to Dido in Carthage. Da Gama describes the moment when his fleet is about to approach the Cape of Good Hope. Suddenly, there appears a black cloud out of which, in turn, an enormous giant emerges, looming over them in the air. This menacing figure announces to the Portuguese the punishments that await them for their daring and presumption—“atrevimento” (5.42.6)—in opening up the new maritime route to the Indian Ocean. He briefly mentions (5.42.7-8) the arduous wars they will have to fight to subjugate the seas and lands of their empire. Then he foretells at length (5.43-48) the storms and mishaps that the cape itself has in store for future Portuguese fleets, culminating in the terrible Sepulveda shipwreck of 1552. The monster...
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SOURCE: “The Dark Side of Myth in Camões' ‘Frail Bark’,” in Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 32, No. 2, 1995, pp. 176-90.
[In the following essay, Brownlee perceives a double transgression in The Lusiads—Vasco da Gama's violation of epic values and Camões's transgression against the epic voice in writing his poem.]
Transgression in epic—its normative role—is one of contrast. The transgressive character or impulse in question is ritualistically eliminated in favor of the cultural values celebrated by the text. Little, if any, space exists for deviation in the matter of epic or the voice that articulates it. In the case of Camões' Lusiads, however, we find operative a surprising double transgression—of his material and his medium. This essay seeks to foreground the calculatedly problematic interpretation that is built into the text by its rich exploitation of mythic discourse.
According to Jorge Luis Borges—one of the foremost mythographers of our time—there exist two basic myths. He writes:
[L]os hombres, a lo largo del tiempo, han repetido siempre dos historias: la de un bajel perdido que busca por los mares mediterráneos una isla querida, y la de un dios que se hace crucificar en el Gólgota.1
men, throughout time, have always told and retold two...
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Hart, Henry H. Luis de Camoëns and the Epic of the Lusiads. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962, 335 pp.
Biography that endeavors to eliminate the more dubious episodes from Camões's life story. An epilogue reprints Camões's lyric poetry in English translation.
Andrews, Norwood H., Jr. “An Essay on Camões' Concept of the Epic.” Revista de Letras 3 (1962): 61-93.
Places Camões epic poem The Lusiads solidly in the nationalistic and classical tradition of Homer and Virgil.
———. “Camões Among American Authors: Isaac Goldberg in Retrospect, On His Own and As a Guide to the Ideologues.” The European Studies Journal 2, No. 1 (1985): 17-26.
Surveys Goldberg's influential criticism of Camões in the early twentieth century.
Bacon, Leonard. “Introduction.” In The Lusiads of Luiz de Camões,” pp. xi-xxx. New York: The Hispanic Society of America, 1950.
Recounts what is known of Camões life and mentions the structure and style of The Lusiads.
Krueger, Robert. “Camões in Marx and Engels.” The European Studies Journal 5, No. 2 (1988): 39-58.
Comments on references to Camões and Portugal in the writings of Marx and Engels,...
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