Luís de Camões World Literature Analysis - Essay

Luís de Camões World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Camões’s ambitious epic The Lusiads has tended to overshadow his lyric poetry, but the same sensibility is evident in both. In sonnet 54, “Todas as almas tristes se mostravam,” the sudden revelation of the poet’s love for Caterina while he is in church, the sense of a general prayerfulness giving way to a more ardent and specific veneration of the beloved, is startling and forceful, even within the heightened rhetoric of sonnet conventions. In sonnet 314, “Se a ninguem tratais com desamor,” he displays the resourcefulness of the lover in trying to read every sign of his beloved’s conduct beneficially, seeing her very indifference to him as a kind of special favor. In sonnet 81, “Amor é um fogo que arde sem se ver,” Camões contemplates the cessation of Caterina’s treasured eyes and even envisages her bodily decomposition, or at least the stillness and coldness of her tomb. In “Alma minha gentl” (sonnet 18), on hearing of Caterina’s death, the poet prays to join her, to be unconscious and insentient. The very ardor of his pleas, however, signifies his continued consciousness. He senses that his praise of Caterina is insufficient, yet the sonnet in which he expresses his admission is perhaps his greatest.

The Lusiads has an intimacy that is similar to Camões’s lyric poetry. The epic is about real people who lived in the recent past, which differs from other Renaissance epics that concentrated on fictional, mythical, or biblical personages, or on figures, such as Godfrey of Bouillon (the hero of Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, 1581; Jerusalem Delivered, 1600), who were sufficiently removed in time to be outside of living memory. The sense that the Portuguese, a previously obscure people, were now making their mark upon the world’s destiny and the excitement that the country now had a national epic pervade the poem. The epic’s depiction of non-European people was a novelty in its time, since most Portuguese people knew little or nothing about Asia and Africa.

Although written more than five hundred years ago, The Lusiads has continued to attract critical attention. Part of Camões’s appeal to contemporary readers is his pronounced ambiguity on the subject of empire. This is clearly evident in book 4. As the Portuguese expedition sets sail, an old man sounds a cautionary note, warning of the negative implications of the nation’s vaulting ambitions. This passage has long been read as Camões expressing reservations about the potential hubris of colonialism and exploration. Book 4 also contains a parallel passage about Adamastor, a mythological character invented by Camões who is similar to the giants and monsters in Greek mythology. Adamstor is the spirit of the Cape of Good Hope, which the voyagers must round on their way to the Indian Ocean. In later years, when the land around the cape was colonized and became South Africa, Adamastor became an important character in South African literature, epitomizing...

(The entire section is 1232 words.)