The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s ships are off the coast of east Africa, while at a council of the gods on Olympus in Greece, Bacchus speaks against the Portuguese and Venus speaks for them. Mars intervenes passionately on Venus’s side. Jupiter states his support of the voyage. Bacchus, failing to persuade the gods, inspires the inhabitants of Mozambique to set a trap. The Muslim peoples there are easily defeated, and da Gama sails on to Mombasa, an island he has heard will be friendlier.

At Mombasa, Bacchus again inspires the locals to attempt a trap by taking da Gama’s ships, but Venus and her nymphs hold back his ships. Venus approaches Jupiter seductively and nearly naked to plead the Portuguese case. Jupiter reassures her and promises a great future for Portuguese exploration and conquest. She then sends Mercury to Malinda to arrange a friendlier welcome for da Gama. The king of Malinda visits da Gama on his ship and asks the explorer about his country.

Da Gama, before sailing to Africa, had set out from Portugal. His course takes his ships south past Morocco, Madeira, the Canaries, the Congo, and other points along the coast. The ships sail past unfamiliar sights: the Southern Cross, a huge waterspout, and St. Elmo’s fire. At the Cape of Good Hope, the ships are confronted by a huge and monstrous being that angrily predicts future storms and shipwrecks for any so bold as to pass the cape. The beast identifies itself as the titan Adamaster, led by his love of the Nereid Thetis to join the titans in their war against Jupiter.

Da Gama’s ships pass the cape in the face of hostile currents. The have several encounters with primitive peoples, as they anchor to scrape the ships’ keels. The crews have a bout with scurvy before arriving at Mozambique and Mombasa and finally at Malinda.

The Portuguese,...

(The entire section is 761 words.)