The Lusiads Themes

"The Lusiads" is an epic poem by Portuguese poet, Luís de Camões. The poem has two prominent themes. One of the themes is the history and glory of modern-day Portugal. The narrator of the poem is Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, and he relates the history of Portugal to the king of Malindi (present-day Kenya). In the first part of the poem, Camões relates the details of Portugal's history, starting at the time of the Roman Empire. The poem explores the colonization that Portugal endured, as well as wars with nearby kingdoms, such as Spain. Due to the nature of the content, the poem is inherently patriotic. Camões, through the narrator, depicts Portugal as a victim of war and conquest, and portrays rival nations and empires as evil and weak in comparison.

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However, when the poem details the maritime explorations, discoveries, and early colonization attempts, the poem takes on an ironic theme. While the first half of the poem depicts Portugal as a victim, the second half depicts the nation as a European power that now victimizes other cultures. In fact, when Vasco da Gama finishes his story, the king is clearly delighted with the stories, but the other Africans, particularly the Moors, and Asian people who heard it were not pleased. They resented the Portuguese colonialist agenda because it affected their own homelands.

It is not clear whether Camões intended this to be a criticism of the then-current Portuguese foreign policy, but it showed the perspectives of the conquered peoples, just as he did in the first part of the poem when the Portuguese themselves were the victims of conquest.