Luís de Camões

gigatos | February 7, 2022


Luís Vaz de Camões (Lisbon, c. 1524 – Lisbon, June 10, 1579 or 1580) was a national poet of Portugal, considered one of the greatest figures of Lusophone literature and one of the great poets of the Western tradition.

Little is known for sure about his life. Apparently he was born in Lisbon, from a family of the lower nobility. About his childhood everything is conjecture but, while still young, he received a solid education in the classical moulds, mastering Latin and knowing ancient and modern literature and history. He may have studied at the University of Coimbra, but his time at school is not documented. He attended the court of King John III, began his career as a lyric poet and was involved, as tradition tells, in love affairs with noble and possibly plebeian ladies, besides leading a bohemian and turbulent life. It is said that, because of a frustrated love, he went into self-exile in Africa, enlisted as a soldier, where he lost an eye in battle. Returning to Portugal, he wounded a servant of the Palace and was arrested. Pardoned, he left for the Orient. Spending several years there, he faced a series of adversities, was arrested several times, fought alongside the Portuguese forces, and wrote his best known work, the nationalistic epic The Lusiads. Back home, he published Os Lusíadas and received a small pension from King D. Sebastião for his services to the Crown, but in his final years he seems to have struggled to make ends meet.

Soon after his death his lyrical work was collected in the collection Rhymes, and he also left three works of comic theater. While he lived he complained several times about alleged injustices he suffered, and the little attention his work received, but shortly after his death his poetry began to be recognized as valuable and of high aesthetic standard by several important names in European literature, gaining ever increasing prestige among the public and connoisseurs and influencing generations of poets in several countries. Camões was a renovator of the Portuguese language and established a lasting canon for it; he became one of the strongest symbols of his homeland”s identity and is a reference for the entire international Lusophone community. Today his fame is firmly established and he is considered one of the great literary figures of the Western tradition, being translated into several languages and becoming the subject of a vast amount of critical studies.

Origins and youth

Much of the information about Camões” biography is doubtful, and probably much of what circulates about him is nothing more than the typical folklore that is formed around a famous figure. Only a few dates that mark his trajectory are documented. The ancestral House of Camões had its origins in Galicia, not far from Cape Finisterre. Luís de Camões was a descendant of Vasco Pires de Camões, a Galician troubadour, warrior and nobleman, who moved to Portugal in 1370 and received from the king great benefits in positions, honors and land, and whose nationalistic poetry contributed to remove the influence of Breton and Italian and conform a national troubadour style. Antão Vaz de Camões, son of Vasco Pires, served in the Red Sea and married D. Guiomar da Gama, a relative of Vasco da Gama. This marriage gave birth to Simão Vaz de Camões, who served in the Royal Navy and traded in Guinea and India, and another brother, Bento, who pursued a career in Letters and the priesthood, entering the Monastery of Santa Cruz dos Agostinhos, a prestigious school for many young Portuguese noblemen. Simão married Ana de Sá e Macedo, also from a noble family, originally from Santarém. Their only son, Luís Vaz de Camões, according to Jayne, Fernandes and some other authors, was born in Lisbon in 1524. Three years later, the city being threatened by the plague, the family moved with the court to Coimbra. Meanwhile, other cities claim the honor of being his birthplace: Coimbra, Santarém and Alenquer. Although Camões” first biographers, Severim de Faria and Manoel Correa, initially gave his year of birth as 1517, records from the Listas da Casa da Índia, later consulted by Manuel de Faria e Sousa, seem to establish that Camões was actually born in Lisbon in 1524. The arguments for taking his birthplace from Lisbon are weak; but neither is it completely beyond doubt, and so the most recent critics consider his place and date of birth uncertain.

About his childhood remains unknown. At the age of twelve or thirteen he would have been protected and educated by his uncle Bento who sent him to Coimbra to study. Tradition says that he was an undisciplined student, but eager for knowledge, interested in history, cosmography and classical and modern literature. However, his name is not in the records of the University of Coimbra, but it is certain from his elaborate style and the profusion of erudite citations that appear in his works that he somehow received a solid education. It is possible that his own uncle instructed him, being by this time chancellor of the University and prior of the Monastery of Santa Cruz, or that he studied at the monastery”s college. When he was about twenty years old, he would have moved to Lisbon before finishing his studies. His family was poor, but being noblemen, he was able to be admitted and establish fruitful intellectual contacts at the court of King John III, initiating himself in poetry.

It has been suggested that he earned his living as a preceptor for Francisco, son of the Count of Linhares, D. António de Noronha, but this seems implausible today. It is also said that he led a bohemian life, frequenting taverns and engaging in riots and tumultuous love affairs. Several ladies appear mentioned by name in later biographies of the poet as having been the object of his loves, but while it is not denied that he must have loved, and even more than one woman, those nominal identifications are now considered apocryphal additions to his legend. Among them, for example, there has been talk of a passion for Infanta D. Maria, the king”s sister, an audacity that would have earned him time in prison, and Catarina de Ataíde, who, being another frustrated love, according to versions would have caused his self-exile, first in Ribatejo, and then enlisting as a soldier in Ceuta. The reasons for the trip are doubtful, but his stay there is accepted as fact, staying two years and losing his right eye in a naval battle in the Strait of Gibraltar. Upon his return to Lisbon, it didn”t take long for him to resume his bohemian life.

There is a document dating back to 1550 that lists him as enlisted to travel to India: “Luís de Camões, son of Simão Vaz and Ana de Sá, residents of Lisbon, in Mouraria; squire, 25 years old, bearded, brought as surety his father; goes on the ship S. Pedro dos Burgaleses… among the men-at-arms”. It turns out that he didn”t board immediately. During a Corpus Christi procession, he had an altercation with a certain Gonçalo Borges, a servant of the Palace, and wounded him with his sword. Sentenced to prison, he was pardoned by the aggrieved party in a letter of pardon. He was released by royal order on March 7, 1553, which reads: “he is a young and poor man and will serve me this year in India”. Manuel de Faria e Sousa found in the records of the Armada da Índia, for that year 1553, under the heading “People of war”, the following seat: “Fernando Casado, son of Manuel Casado and Branca Queimada, residents in Lisbon, squire; was in his place Luis de Camões, son of Simão Vaz and Ana de Sá, squire; and received 2 400 as the others.


He traveled on the ship São Bento, from the fleet of Fernão Álvares Cabral, son of Pedro Álvares Cabral, which left Tejo on March 24, 1553. During the trip, he passed through the regions where Vasco da Gama had sailed, faced a storm at the Cape of Good Hope where the three other ships of the fleet were lost, and landed in Goa in 1554. He soon enlisted in the service of Viceroy Afonso de Noronha and fought in the expedition against the king of Chembé (or “da Pimenta”). In 1555, succeeding Noronha D. Pedro Mascarenhas, he ordered Manuel de Vasconcelos to go fight the Moors in the Red Sea. Camões accompanied him, but the squadron did not meet the enemy and went to winter in Hormuz, in the Persian Gulf.

Probably by this time he had already started writing The Lusiads. When he returned to Goa in 1556, he found in the government D. Francisco Barreto, for whom he composed the Auto de Filodemo, which suggests that Barreto was favorable to him. Early biographers, however, differ on Camões” relationship with the ruler. Around the same time, an anonymous satire criticizing the reigning immorality and corruption was attributed to Camões. Since satires are condemned by the Manueline Ordinances, he would have been arrested for it. But it has been hypothesized that his imprisonment was due to debts incurred. It is possible that he remained in prison until 1561, or before that he was again condemned, because when Francisco Coutinho took over the government, he was freed, employed and protected by him. He must have been appointed to the position of Provedor-mor dos Defuntos e Ausentes for Macau in 1562, which he did from 1563 until 1564 or 1565. At this time Macau was a still developing trading post, an almost deserted place. Tradition has it that here he wrote part of The Lusiads in a cave, which later received his name.

On his return trip to Goa, he was shipwrecked, as tradition has it, near the mouth of the river Mecom, saving only himself and the manuscript of The Lusiads, an event that inspired the famous redondillas Sobre os rios que vão, considered by António Sérgio to be the backbone of Camões lyrics and repeatedly cited in critical literature. The trauma of the shipwreck, as Leal de Matos said, had more profound repercussions on a redefinition of the project of Os Lusíadas, being perceptible from Canto VII on, being accused already by Diogo do Couto, his friend, who partly accompanied the writing. His rescue probably took months to occur, and there is no record of how this occurred, but he was taken to Malacca, where he received a new order of arrest for misappropriation of the property of the dead entrusted to him. The exact date of his return to Goa is not known, where he may have remained in prison for some time. Couto mentions that Dinamene, a Chinese maiden with whom Camões is said to have fallen in love, died in the shipwreck, but Ribeiro and others claim this story should be rejected. The next viceroy, D. Antão de Noronha, was a longtime friend of Camões, having met him in Morocco. Some biographers claim that he was promised an official post at the Chaul trading post, but never took it. Severim de Faria said that the final years spent in Goa were entertained with poetry and military activities, where he always showed bravery, readiness, and loyalty to the Crown.

It is difficult to determine what his daily life was like in the East, beyond what can be extrapolated from his military status. It seems certain that he always lived modestly and may have shared a house with friends, “in one of those republics in which it was customary for the Portuguese to associate with the Portuguese royals,” as Ramalho quotes him. Some of these friends must have had culture, and thus the illustrated company must not have been absent in those parts. Ribeiro, Saraiva and Moura admit that he may have met, among other figures, with Fernão Mendes Pinto, Fernão Vaz Dourado, Fernão Álvares do Oriente, Garcia de Orta, and the aforementioned Diogo do Couto, creating opportunities for literary debates and related subjects. He may also have attended lectures in some of Goa”s religious colleges or establishments. Ribeiro adds that

It is also possible that in such meetings, attended by men of arms and letters at the same time, who sought not only military success and material fortune, but also the fame and glory born of culture, as was one of the great aspirations of the Humanism of his time, the idea of an academy was present, reproducing in the East, within the limitations of the local context, the model of the Renaissance academies such as the one founded in Florence by Marsilio Ficino and his circle, where Neoplatonic ideals were cultivated.

Return to Portugal

By invitation, or taking the opportunity to overcome part of the distance that separated him from the homeland, it is not known for sure, in December 1567 Camões boarded the ship of Pedro Barreto to Sofala, on the island of Mozambique, where he had been appointed governor, and there would wait for a transport to Lisbon at a future date. Early biographers say that Pedro Barreto was treacherous, making empty promises to Camões, so that after two years, Diogo do Couto found him in a precarious condition, as we read in the record he left:

When he tried to travel with Couto, he was sentenced to two hundred cruzados by Barreto, on account of the expenses he had incurred with the poet. His friends, however, collected the amount and Camões was released, arriving in Cascais aboard the ship Santa Clara on April 7, 1570.

After so many adventures, he finished The Lusiads and presented it in a recitative for King D. Sebastião. The king, still a teenager, ordered the work to be published in 1572, also granting a small pension to “Luís de Camões, a noble knight of my House”, in payment for his services in India. The value of this pension did not exceed fifteen thousand réis annually, which if it was not much, was not as little as has been suggested, considering that the bridesmaids of the Palace received about ten thousand réis. For a veteran soldier, the sum must have been considered sufficient and honorable at the time. But the pension was only to be maintained for three years, and although the grant was renewable, it seems that it was paid irregularly, causing the poet to experience material hardship.

He lived out his final years in a room in a house near the Church of Saint Anne, in a state, according to tradition, of the most undignified poverty, “without a rag to cover himself. Le Gentil considered this view a romantic exaggeration, for he could still keep the slave Jau, whom he had brought from the East, and official documents attest that he had some means of living. After being embittered by the Portuguese defeat at the Battle of Alcácer-Quibir, where King D. Sebastião disappeared, leading Portugal to lose its independence to Spain, he fell ill, according to Le Gentil, of the plague. He was taken to hospital, and died on June 10, 1580, being buried, according to Faria e Sousa, in a shallow grave in the Church of Santa Ana, or in the cemetery of the poor of the same hospital, according to Teófilo Braga. His mother, having survived him, went on to receive his pension as an inheritance. The receipts, found at the Torre do Tombo, document the date of the poet”s death, although an epitaph written by D. Gonçalo Coutinho has been preserved, where it is erroneously listed as having died in 1579. After the 1755 earthquake, which destroyed most of Lisbon, attempts were made to find Camões” remains, all of which were frustrated. The skeleton that was deposited in 1880 in a tomb at the Jerónimos Monastery is, in all probability, someone else”s.

The testimonies of his contemporaries describe him as a man of medium build, with a blond hairline, blind in the right eye, skilled in all physical exercises, and with a temperamental disposition, costing him little to engage in fights. He is said to have been of great value as a soldier, displaying courage, combativeness, a sense of honor and a willingness to serve, a good companion in off hours, liberal, cheerful and witty when the blows of fortune did not put him down and make him sad. He was aware of his merit as a man, as a soldier, and as a poet.

All the efforts made to discover the definitive identity of his muse were in vain and several contradictory proposals were made about supposed women present in his life. Camões himself suggested, in one of his poems, that there were several muses inspiring him, when he said “in several flames variously ardia”. Names of ladies supposed to be his beloved only appear in his poems, and may therefore be ideal figures; no mention of any ladies identifiable by name is given in the first biographies of the poet, those of Pedro de Mariz and Severim de Faria, which only gathered rumors about “some loves in the Queen”s Palace”. The citation of Catarina de Ataíde only appeared in Faria e Sousa”s edition of Rimas, in the mid 17th century, and that of Infanta, in José Maria Rodrigues”, which was only published in the early 20th century. The decanted Dinamene also seems to be a poetic image rather than a real person. Ribeiro proposed several alternatives to explain her: the name was perhaps a cryptonym of Dona Joana Meneses ( = D.Ioana + Mene), one of her possible loves, who died on the way to India and was buried at sea, daughter of Violante, Countess of Linhares, whom she would also have loved while still in Portugal, and pointed out the occurrence of the name Dinamene in poems written probably around her arrival in India, before going to China, where she is said to have met the girl. He also referred to the opinion of researchers who claim that Couto”s mention, the only early reference to the Chinese outside of the Camões” own work, was falsified, being introduced a posteriori, with the possibility that it is still a spelling error, a corruption of “dignamente”. In the final version of Couto”s manuscript, the name would not even have been mentioned, although it is difficult to prove this with the disappearance of the manuscript.

Probably executed between 1573 and 1575, the so-called “portrait painted in red”, illustrated at the opening of the article, is considered by Vasco Graça Moura as “the only and precious reliable document we have to know the epic”s features, portrayed in life by a professional painter. What is known of this portrait is a copy, made at the request of the 3rd Duke of Lafões, executed by Luís José Pereira de Resende between 1819 and 1844, from the original that was found in a green silk sack in the rubble of the fire at the palace of the Counts of Ericeira, which has since disappeared. It is a “very faithful copy” that,

Also surviving is a miniature painted in India in 1581, commissioned by Fernão Teles de Meneses and offered to the viceroy D. Luís de Ataíde, which, according to testimonies from the time, was very similar to his appearance. Another portrait was found in the 1970s by Maria Antonieta de Azevedo, dated 1556 and showing the poet in prison. The first medal with his effigy appeared in 1782, ordered by the Baron of Dillon in England, where Camões is crowned with laurels and dressed in coat of arms, with the inscription “Apollo Portuguez

Over the centuries, Camões” image has been represented countless times in engraving, painting and sculpture, by Portuguese and foreign artists, and several monuments have been erected in his honor, among which stands out the great Monument to Camões installed in 1867 in Praça Luís de Camões, in Lisbon, authored by Victor Bastos, and which is the center of official public ceremonies and popular manifestations. He was also honored in musical compositions, appeared with his effigy on medals, and coins, and as a character in novels, poetry, and plays. The film Camões, directed by José Leitão de Barros, was the first Portuguese film to participate in the Cannes Film Festival, in 1946. Famous artists who took him as a model for their work include Bordalo Pinheiro, Francisco Augusto Metrass, António Soares dos Reis, Horace Vernet, José Malhoa, Vieira Portuense, and Lagoa Henriques. A crater on the planet Mercury and an asteroid in the main belt are named after him.


Camões lived in the final phase of the European Renaissance, a period marked by many changes in culture and society, marking the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Modern Age and the transition from feudalism to capitalism. It was called “Renaissance” because of the rediscovery and revaluation of the cultural references of Classical Antiquity, which guided the changes of this period toward a humanistic and naturalistic ideal that affirmed the dignity of man, placing him at the center of the universe, making him the investigator par excellence of nature, and privileging reason and science as arbiters of manifest life. In this period, several scientific instruments were invented and several natural laws and physical entities previously unknown were discovered; the very knowledge of the face of the planet changed after the discoveries of the great navigations. The spirit of intellectual speculation and scientific research was on the rise, causing Physics, Mathematics, Medicine, Astronomy, Philosophy, Engineering, Philology and various other branches of knowledge to reach an unprecedented level of complexity, efficiency and accuracy, which led to an optimistic conception of human history as a continuous and ever-expanding expansion for the better. In a way, the Renaissance was an original and eclectic attempt to harmonize pagan Neoplatonism with the Christian religion, eros with charitas, along with Eastern, Jewish and Arabic influences, and where the study of magic, astrology and the occult were not absent. It was also the time when strong nation states began to be created, trade and cities expanded, and the bourgeoisie became a force of great social and economic importance, contrasted with the relative decline in the influence of religion in world affairs.

In the 16th century, the time in which Camões lived, the influence of the Italian Renaissance had expanded throughout Europe. However, several of its most typical characteristics were in decline, particularly because of a series of political disputes and wars that changed the European political map, with Italy losing its place as a power, and the split of Catholicism, with the emergence of the Protestant Reformation. In the Catholic reaction, the Counter-Reformation was launched, the Inquisition was reactivated, and ecclesiastical censorship was rekindled. At the same time, Machiavelli”s doctrines became widespread, dissociating ethics from the practice of power. The result was the reaffirmation of the power of religion over the profane world and the formation of an agitated spiritual, political, social, and intellectual atmosphere, with strong doses of pessimism, having unfavorable repercussions on the ancient freedom enjoyed by artists. Nevertheless, the intellectual and artistic acquisitions of the High Renaissance that were still fresh and shining before the eyes could not be forgotten at once, even if their philosophical substratum could no longer remain valid in the face of new political, religious and social facts. The new art that was made, although inspired by the source of classicism, translated it into restless, anxious, distorted, ambivalent forms, attached to intellectualist preciosities, characteristics that reflected the dilemmas of the century and define the general style of that phase as mannerist.

Since the middle of the 15th century Portugal had established itself as a great naval and commercial power, its arts had developed and enthusiasm for maritime conquests had simmered. The reign of King João II was marked by the formation of a feeling of national pride, and by the time of King Manuel I, as Spina & Bechara say, pride had given way to delirium, to the sheer euphoria of world domination. In the early 16th century Garcia de Resende lamented that there was no one who could worthily celebrate so many feats, claiming that there was epic material superior to that of the Romans and Trojans. Filling this gap, João de Barros wrote his chivalric novella, A Crónica do Imperador Clarimundo (1520), in epic form. Soon after, António Ferreira appeared, establishing himself as the mentor of the classicist generation and challenging his contemporaries to sing the glories of Portugal in high style. When Camões came along, the stage was set for the apotheosis of the motherland, a country that had fought hard to win its sovereignty, first from the Moors and then from Castile, had developed an adventurous spirit that carried it across the oceans, expanding the known frontiers of the world and opening new trade and exploration routes, defeating enemy armies and the hostile forces of nature. By this time, however, a political and cultural crisis was already looming, materializing soon after her death when the country lost its sovereignty to Spain.


Camões” production is divided into three genres: lyric, epic and theatrical. His lyrical work was soon appreciated as a high achievement. He demonstrated his virtuosity especially in songs and elegies, but his redondillas are not far behind. In fact, he was a master of this form, giving a new life to the art of the glosa, instilling in it spontaneity and simplicity, a delicate irony and a lively phrasing, taking courtly poetry to its highest level, and showing that he also knew how to perfectly express joy and relaxation. His epic production is synthesized in Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), a rich glorification of the Portuguese achievements, not only their military victories, but also their conquest over the elements and physical space, with recurrent use of classical allegories. The idea of a national epic existed in the Portuguese heartland since the 15th century, when the navigations began, but it was up to Camões, in the following century, to materialize it. In his dramatic works, he sought to fuse nationalistic and classical elements.

Probably if he had remained in Portugal, as a courtly poet, he would never have reached the mastery of his art. The experiences he accumulated as a soldier and sailor greatly enriched his world view and excited his talent. Through them, he was able to free himself from the formal limitations of courtly poetry, and the difficulties he went through, the deep anguish of exile, the longing for his homeland, indelibly impregnated his spirit and communicated themselves in his work, and from there markedly influenced the following generations of Portuguese writers. His best poems shine precisely because of what is genuine in the suffering expressed and the honesty of that expression, and this is one of the main reasons that put his poetry on such a high level.

His sources were countless. He mastered Latin and Spanish, and proved to have a solid knowledge of Greco-Roman mythology, ancient and modern European history, Portuguese chroniclers, and classical literature, highlighting authors such as Ovid, Xenophon, Lucanus, Valerius Flaco, Horace, but especially Homer and Virgil, from whom he borrowed various structural and stylistic elements and sometimes even excerpts in almost literal transcription. According to his citations, he also seems to have had a good knowledge of works by Ptolemy, Diogenes Laertius, Pliny the Elder, Strabo and Pomponius, among other ancient historians and scientists. Among the modern ones, he was aware of the Italian production of Francesco Petrarca, Ludovico Ariosto, Torquato Tasso, Giovanni Boccaccio and Jacopo Sannazaro, and of Castilian literature.

For those who consider the Renaissance a homogeneous historical period informed by classical ideals and extending to the end of the sixteenth century, Camões is purely and simply a Renaissance man, but it is generally recognized that the sixteenth century was largely dominated by a stylistic derivation called Mannerism, which at various points is an anti-classical school and in many ways prefigures the Baroque. Thus, for several authors, it is more appropriate to describe the Camonian style as Mannerist, distinguishing it from typical Renaissance classicism. This is justified by the presence of several language resources and an approach to his themes that are not in accord with the doctrines of balance, economy, tranquility, harmony, unity, and invariable idealism that are the fundamental axes of Renaissance classicism. Camões, after a typically classical initial phase, went down other paths, and disquiet and drama became his companions. Throughout The Lusiads, signs of a political and spiritual crisis are visible, the prospect of the decline of the empire and the character of the Portuguese remains in the air, censured for bad manners and lack of appreciation for the arts, alternating with passages in which he makes his enthusiastic apology. The taste for contrast, emotional excitement, conflict, paradox, religious propaganda, the use of complex figures of speech and preciousness, even the grotesque and the monstrous, are also typical of Mannerism, and would become even more so in the Baroque.

The Mannerist character of his work is also marked by the ambiguities generated by the break with the past and the concomitant adherence to it, the first manifested in the visualization of a new era and the use of new poetic formulas from Italy, and the second, in the use of archaisms typical of the Middle Ages. Besides using Renaissance and classicist formal models, he cultivated the medieval genres of the vilancete, the cantiga, and the trova. For Joaquim dos Santos, the contradictory nature of his poetry lies in the contrast between two opposing premises: idealism and practical experience. He conjugated values typical of humanist rationalism with others derived from chivalry, the crusades, and feudalism, aligned the constant propaganda of the Catholic faith with ancient mythology, responsible on the aesthetic level for all the action that materializes the final achievement, discarding the aurea mediocritas dear to the classics to advocate the primacy of the exercise of arms and glorious conquest.

The Lusiads

The Lusiads is considered the Portuguese epic par excellence. The title itself already suggests its nationalistic intentions, being derived from the ancient Roman name for Portugal, Lusitania. It is one of the most important epics of the modern era because of its grandeur and universality. The epic tells the story of Vasco da Gama and the Portuguese heroes who sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and opened a new route to India. It is a humanistic epic, even in its contradictions, in the association of pagan mythology with the Christian vision, in the opposing feelings about war and empire, in the taste for rest and the desire for adventure, in the appreciation of sensual pleasure and the demands of an ethical life, in the perception of greatness and the foreboding of decline, in the heroism paid for with suffering and struggle. The poem opens with the famous verses:

The weapons and the barons who, from the western shore of Lusitania, through seas never sailed beforePassed even beyond the Taprobana, in dangers and wars, more than human strength could promise, and among remote people, built a new kingdom, which they have so exalted.

The poem”s ten cantos total 1,102 stanzas with a total of 8,816 decasyllable verses, employing the eighth rhyme (abababcc). After an introduction, an invocation, and a dedication to King D. Sebastião, the action begins, which fuses myth and historical fact. Vasco da Gama, sailing along the coast of Africa, is observed by the assembly of classical gods, who discuss the fate of the expedition, which is protected by Venus and attacked by Bacchus. Resting for a few days in Melinde, at the request of the local king Vasco da Gama narrates all of Portuguese history, from its origins to the voyage they undertake. cantos III, IV and V contain some of the best passages in the entire epic: the episode of Inês de Castro, who becomes a symbol of love and death, the Battle of Aljubarrota, the vision of King Manuel I, the description of the fire of Santelmo, the story of the giant Adamastor. Back on the ship, the poet uses his free time to tell the story of the Twelve of England, while Bacchus summons the maritime gods to destroy the Portuguese fleet. Venus intervenes and the ships manage to reach Calicut, in India. There, Paulo da Gama receives the king”s representatives and explains the meaning of the banners that adorn the captain”s ship. On the return voyage the sailors enjoy the island created for them by Venus, rewarding them with her favors from the nymphs. One of them sings of Portugal”s glorious future and the scene closes with a description of the universe by Tetis and Vasco da Gama. The journey then continues home.

In Os Lusíadas Camões achieves a remarkable harmony between classical erudition and practical experience, developed with consummate technical skill, describing the Portuguese adventures with moments of serious pondering mixed with others of delicate sensitivity and humanism. The great descriptions of battles, of the manifestation of natural forces, of sensual encounters, transcend the classicist allegory and allusion that permeate the entire work and present themselves as a fluent discourse that is always of a high aesthetic level, not only because of its especially well-executed narrative character, but also because of the superior command of all the resources of the language and the art of versification, with a knowledge of a wide range of styles, used in efficient combination. The work is also a serious warning to Christian kings to abandon petty rivalries and unite against Muslim expansion.

The structure of the work is in itself worthy of interest, for, according to Jorge de Sena, nothing is arbitrary in Os Lusíadas. Among the arguments he put forward was the use of the golden section, a defined relationship between the parts and the whole, organizing the whole through ideal proportions that emphasize especially significant passages. Sena demonstrated that applying the golden section to the entire work falls precisely on the verse describing the arrival of the Portuguese in India. Applying the section separately to the two resulting parts, the first part contains the episode that tells of the death of Inês de Castro, and the second part contains the stanza that narrates Cupid”s efforts to unite the Portuguese and the nymphs, which for Sena reinforces the importance of love throughout the composition. Two other elements give Os Lusíadas its modernity and distance it from classicism: the introduction of doubt, contradiction, and questioning, at odds with the affirmative certainty that characterizes the classical epic, and the primacy of rhetoric over action, replacing the world of facts with that of words, which do not fully rescue reality and evolve into metalanguage, with the same disruptive effect on the traditional epic.

According to Costa Pimpão, there is no evidence that Camões intended to write his epic before having traveled to India, although heroic themes were already present in his earlier production. It is possible that he drew some inspiration from fragments of João de Barros” Decades of Asia and Fernão Lopes de Castanheda”s History of the Discovery and Conquest of India by the Portuguese. He was certainly well informed about classical mythology before this, as well as about ancient epic literature. Apparently, the poem began to take shape as early as 1554. Storck believes that the determination to write it was born during the sea voyage itself. Between 1568 and 1569 he was seen in Mozambique by the historian Diogo do Couto, his friend, still working on the work, which only came to light in Lisbon in 1572.

The success of the publication of Os Lusíadas supposedly forced a second edition in the same year as the princeps edition. The two differ in numerous details and it was debated at length which one was in fact the original. Nor is it clear to whom the amendments in the second text are due. Currently the edition showing the editor”s mark, a pelican, with its neck turned to the left, and which is called edition A, made under the author”s supervision, is recognized as original. However, edition B was for a long time taken as the princeps, with disastrous consequences for later critical analysis of the work. Apparently the B edition was produced later, around 1584 or 1585, in a clandestine manner, taking the fictitious date of 1572 to circumvent the delays of the censorship of the time, if it was published as a new edition, and to correct the serious defects of another edition of 1584, the so-called Piscos edition. However, Maria Helena Paiva raised the hypothesis that the A and B editions are just variants of the same edition, which was being corrected after the typesetting, but while the printing was already in progress. According to the researcher, “the need to make the most of the press led to the conclusion of the printing of a form, which consisted of several folios, to take a first proof, which was corrected while the press continued, now with the corrected text. There were, therefore, uncorrected printed folios and corrected printed folios, which were indistinctly grouped in the same copy”, meaning that no two copies were strictly equal in the press system of that time.


Camões” lyrical work, scattered in manuscripts, was collected and published posthumously in 1595 under the title Rimas. Throughout the 17th century, the growing prestige of his epic contributed to further elevate the appreciation of these other poems. The collection comprises redondillas, odes, glosses, cantigas, volta or variations, sextiles, sonnets, elegies, éclogues, and other short stanzas. His lyric poetry comes from several different sources: the sonnets generally follow the Italian style derived from Petrarch, the songs are modelled on Petrarch and Pietro Bembo. In the odes, we can see the influence of chivalric troubadour poetry and classical poetry, but with a more refined style; in the sixty-two, the Provençal influence is clear; in the round tunes, he expanded the form, deepened the lyricism, and introduced a theme, worked in antithesis and paradoxes, unknown in the ancient tradition of the buddy songs, and the elegies are quite classicist. His stanzas follow an epistolary style, with moralizing themes. The écoglas are perfect pieces of the pastoral genre, derived from Virgil and the Italians. At many points in his lyric, the influence of the Spanish poetry of Garcilaso de la Vega, Jorge de Montemor, Juan Boscán, Gregorio Silvestre, and several other names has also been detected, as pointed out by his commentator Faria e Sousa.

Despite the care taken by the first editor of the Rhymes, Fernão Rodrigues Lobo Soropita, several apocryphal poems were included in the 1595 edition. Many poems were discovered over the following centuries and attributed to him, but not always with careful critical analysis. The result was that, for example, while in the original Rhymes there were 65 sonnets, in Juromenha”s 1861 edition there were 352; in Aguiar e Silva”s 1953 edition 166 pieces were still listed. In addition, many editions modernized or “embellished” the original text, a practice accentuated in particular after Faria e Sousa”s 1685 edition, giving birth and taking root to a tradition of its own about this adulterated lesson that caused enormous difficulties for critical study. More scientific studies only began to be undertaken at the end of the 19th century, with the contribution of Wilhelm Storck and Carolina Michaelis de Vasconcelos, who discarded several apocryphal compositions. In the early 20th century the work continued with José Maria Rodrigues and Afonso Lopes Vieira, who published in 1932 the Rimas in an edition they called “critical”, although it didn”t deserve the name: it adopted large parts of Faria e Sousa”s lesson, but the editors claimed to have used the original editions, from 1595 and 1598. On the other hand, they definitely raised the issue of textual fraud that had been perpetuating for a long time and had adulterated the poems to the point of being unrecognizable. One example will suffice:

It seems impossible, in this purge, to reach a definitive result. However, enough authentic material survives to guarantee his position as the best Portuguese lyricist and the greatest Renaissance poet in Portugal.


The general content of his works for the stage combines, in the same way as in Os Lusíadas, nationalism and classical inspiration. His production in this field is summarized in three works, all in the genre of comedy and in the format of an auto: El-Rei Seleuco, Filodemo and Anfitriões. The attribution of El-King Seleucus to Camões, however, is controversial. Its existence was not known until 1654, when it appeared published in the first part of the Rhymes in Craesbeeck”s edition, which gave no details about its origin and took little care in editing the text. The play also differs in several aspects from the other two that have survived, such as in its much shorter length (one act), the existence of a prose prologue, and the less profound and less erudite treatment of the love theme. The theme, of the complicated passion of Antiochus, son of King Seleucus I Nicátor, for his stepmother, Queen Stratonice, was taken from an ancient historical fact transmitted by Plutarch and repeated by Petrarch and the Spanish popular songbook, working it in the style of Gil Vicente.

Amphitryon, published in 1587, is an adaptation of Plautus” Amphitryon, where he accentuates the comic character of the myth of Amphitryon, highlighting the omnipotence of love, which subdues even the immortals, also following the Vincentian tradition. The play is written in minor roundwords and makes use of bilingualism, employing Castilian in the lines of the character Amosia, a slave, to point out his low social level in passages that reach the grotesque, a feature that appears in the other plays as well. O Filodemo, composed in India and dedicated to the viceroy D. Francisco Barreto, is a morality comedy in five acts, according to the classical division. The theme is the love of a servant, Philodemus, for Dionisa, the daughter of the nobleman whose house he serves in, with autobiographical features. Camões saw comedy as a secondary genre, of interest only as an entertainment of circumstance, but he achieved significant results by transferring the comedy of the characters to the action and refining the plot, thus pointing a way for the renewal of Portuguese comedy. However, his suggestion was not followed by the cultivators of the genre who succeeded him.

Thematic nuclei of Camões” work

For Ivan Teixeira, although Os Lusíadas was not written at the request of the state, it fitted perfectly to a cultural need of the expansionist endeavor. Camões believed in the dominant discourse in Portugal at the time, that the Portuguese had a civilizing mission to fulfill in the world. In the text this mission is made explicit, but ideology does not cloud his art. On the contrary, it is Poetry that gives amplitude to History, an amplitude that Camões imagined was the poet”s duty to reveal to his contemporaries, leaning on the glory of the past and the present to soar on a high flight and scrutinize with the eye of the spirit the even grander prospects on the distant horizon of the future, bringing through Art back to the world the vision received, so that Art would infuse History with a new meaning, guaranteeing the superior significance of that History in the immortality of an Art that does justice to it, thereby rekindling the Portuguese ardor for even greater conquests. As Alcyr Pécora suggested, it is as if without the epic the good of the feat could not be fully accomplished. Weapons alone are not enough for greatness, it is necessary that the arts sing it, and if the hero does not esteem art, he limits himself to his virtue, and loses the capacity to attain the sublime. Camões, without modesty, placed himself as the voice of that song necessary for the greatness of Portugal, but dismayed, he accused the ingratitude and injustices he suffered:

Look how long I have been singing on your Tagus and your Lusitanians, Fortune has brought me on pilgrimage, seeing new works and new damages:…..In exchange for the rests I expected, the laurel chapels that would honor me, works never used have been invented, with which in such a hard state they have laid me down.

Yet, even at his own expense, it is clear that his intent was not just to glorify the Portuguese, but to deify them, either by celebrating their positive achievements or by correcting their bad behavior. Os Lusíadas is thus not only history and apology, not only “ingenuity and art,” but a criticism of manners, an ethical dictum, a complex and sometimes contradictory political program, and a promise of a better future, a future that has never been dreamed of for any people. In the poem, great figures from antiquity appear overshadowed by what the men of Portugal accomplished and would accomplish. The Portuguese would become divine not only for their strength of mind, for their physical courage in the face of the enemy, but for the exercise of the highest virtues. For Camões, the Portuguese were destined to replace the fame of the Ancients because their prowess exceeded them. Not even the veneration for Antiquity that the poet nurtured was able to overcome his conception of the Portuguese as sublime heroes:

Cease from the wise Greeks and TrojansThe great navigations they made;Let Alexandro and Trajan be silentThe fame of their victories; Let me sing of the illustrious Lusitanian breast,Whom Neptune and Mars obeyed:Let all that the ancient Muse sings cease,That another higher value rejoices

But here we see one of the paradoxes of Camões” political ideology, or perhaps his prudence and wisdom, for while The Lusiads are on the one hand a praise to the spirit of conquest, the prophetic condemnation, in the voice of the Old Man of Restelo, of the “vain greed” of the Portuguese, of their desire for the “glory of command, and “this vanity that we call fame,” probably echoes a current of thought of his time that was contrary to the premises of navigation, leaving “the enemy at the gates, because you are going to seek another from so far away, so that the old kingdom may be depopulated, weakened, and driven far away. His appearance closes by warning the Portuguese against hubris, the “high desires”, remembering how Phaethon, “the miserable boy”, caused his own ruin by trying to drive the solar chariot of his father, Helios, without possessing the ability to do so, and was therefore struck down by Zeus, and how Icarus succumbed to the temptation to fly into the sun with his wings of wax, watching them melt and falling mortally to the earth.

Of the most present themes in Camões” lyrics, that of love is central and occurs conspicuously in Os Lusíadas. In his conception, he incorporated elements from classical doctrine, courtly love, and Christian religion, all of which contributed to encourage spiritual love rather than carnal love. For the Classics, especially the Platonic school, spiritual love is the highest, the only love worthy of the wise, and this kind of incorporeal affection came to be known as Platonic love. In the Christian religion of his time, the body was seen as the source of one of the deadly sins, lust, and was therefore always regarded with suspicion if not contempt; while love in its spiritual versions was approved, sexual love was allowed primarily for procreation, with pleasure taking a back seat. From troubadour poetry he inherited the tradition of courtly love, which is itself a Platonic derivation that places the lady on an ideal level, never attainable, and demands from the knight immaculate ethics and total subservience to his beloved. In this context, Camões” love, as expressed in his works, is, as a rule, an idealized love that does not come to fruition and is expressed on the level of abstraction and art. However, it is a love trapped in dualism; it is a love that, while it enlightens the mind, generates poetry, and ennobles the spirit, and brings it closer to the divine, the beautiful, the eternal, the pure, and the wonderful, it is also a love that tortures and enslaves by the impossibility of ignoring the beloved”s desire for possession and the urgencies of the flesh. The poet has complained countless times, bitterly, about the tyranny of these impossible loves, he has wept about the distances, the goodbyes, the longing, the lack of reciprocity, and the impalpability of the noble fruits it produces. Take, for example, a well-known sonnet:

Love is a fire that burns without being seen;It”s a wound that hurts and does not feel;It”s a discontent contentmentIt”s a pain that cracks without hurting;It”s a not wanting more than wanting well;It”s lonely to walk among people;It”s never content to be happy;It”s caring that is gained in losing;It”s wanting to be trapped by will;It”s serving the one who wins, the winner;It”s having loyalty with the one who kills us. But how can its favor cause In human hearts friendship, If so contrary to you is the same love?

All the paradoxes created by amorous idealization are emphasized by the poetic structure itself, full of antithesis, metaphors, syllogisms, oppositions and inversions, which in Cavalcante”s analysis

If earthly consummation is impossible, it may require the very death of the lovers, so that they can be united in Paradise. Thus, the theme of death accompanies that of love in much of Camões” poetry, either explicitly or implicitly. However, love was not always a drama for him, and the poet was able to express its purely joyful and tranquil side, touching, as Joaquim Nabuco observed, the core of simplicity of feeling. As an example, he gave the following sonnet:

The lover is transformed into the thing lovedBy virtue of the much imagined;I have no more to desire,For in me I have the desired part. If my soul is transformed into it, what else does the body want to achieve? In itself alone it can rest, For with it such a soul is bound. But this beautiful and pure Semidea That like the accident in its subject, So with my soul conforms; It is in thought as an idea; And the living, pure love of which I am made, As simple matter seeks form.

In any case, despite the frustrations and recurrent suffering, for Camões love was worth living: “Tears inflame my love and I feel content with myself because I have loved you”, and in his descriptions of his beloved, pictorial images of great delicacy abound, placing the woman as the central element in a harmonious natural landscape, especially in his lyric derived more directly from Petrarch and from the Portuguese pastoral tradition of Garcia de Resende”s Cancioneiro Geral, which evoke classical bucolicism. The painting with words brings to the fore both the natural and feminine beauties, and is capable of outlining a psychological profile through the description of the woman”s gestures, postures and bodily movements, as is evident in the passage: “The face on her hand

The amorous duality expressed in Camões” lyrics corresponds to two conceptions of woman: the first is an angelic creature, an object of worship, an almost divine being, untouchable and distant. Her description emphasizes the correspondences between her physical beauty and her moral and spiritual perfection. Her hair is gold, her mouth is a rose, her teeth, pearls, and her simple closeness and contemplation are heavenly gifts. But love lived in spirit gives way to totalizing feelings that end up also involving erotic and hedonistic manifestation, making an appeal for immediate enjoyment, before time consumes the bodies in decrepitude, invoking then the other woman, the carnal one. If the physical union does not happen, suffering is born and with it alienation from the world, bewilderment, and the “poetry of relief,” as Soares called it. In Camões” lyrics, the polarizing center of pleasure and pain is the woman, and the entire love pathos revolves around the female figure; she is the starting and ending point of the entire poetic discourse. Even without ever having married and even though he adored his muses from a distance, Camões in all probability experienced carnal love. In Os Lusíadas, transcending the tradition of Petrarchist love literature, one finds the most erotically charged passages of Camões” work, in several vivid, free, passionate, and honest descriptions of sensual encounters and women, not infrequently bathed in intense lyricism. The most striking passages in this regard are the portrait of Venus and her ascent to Olympus, where she seduces Jupiter to favor the Portuguese, in Canto II, and the scenes on the Island of Loves, in Cantos IX and X. The following is an excerpt from the portrait of the goddess:

I”m not sure if you”re right, but I”m not sure if you”re right, or if you”re right, or if you”re right, or if you”re right, or if you”re right, or if you”re right, or if you”re right, or if you”re right, or if you”re right, or if you”re right, or if you”re right. It is not, however, all that is hidden or uncovered, the veil of the purple lilies, which is of little avarice; but, so that desire may light up the fold, it places before him that rare object.

For Cidália dos Santos, the efficiency of the erotic evocation lies in the skillful creation of a voyeuristic path that alternates the exhibition and the concealment of the goddess”s body, on a scale of progressive intensity and with quite bold descriptions, even though she makes use of a metaphor to mark the focus of sexual desire, the lips of her vulva: “the purple lilies”. In the description of the Island of Loves the erotic atmosphere is consistently maintained through a long passage, also in an increasing sequence of intensity, describing from the creation of the island, the arrival of the nymphs and the preparations for the enjoyment of the Portuguese, to the moment when the sailors begin the “hunt” for the nymphs through the forest and finally join them in a moment of liberating and generalized pleasure that compensated for all the labors previously suffered:

Oh, what a hungry kiss in the forest, and what a gentle cry it sounded! What gentle caresses, what honest anger, what joyful laughter it turned into! What more they spend in the morning, and in the siesta, that Venus with pleasures inflamed, It is better to taste it than to judge it, but judge it who cannot taste it.

It should be noted that the collective sexual consummation that occurs on the Isle of Loves, although with all the attributes of carnality and described in distinctly erotic detail, is far removed from the character of an unbridled orgy. The nymphs are goddesses, and the love they offer is not vulgar. In the classical tradition they were entities that enlightened the intellect and presided over generation and regeneration, and in the epic they appear as potential matrices of a sublimated race, the “strong and beautiful progeny” that Camões longed to see born in Portugal. The Isle of Loves itself embodies several attributes of an earthly paradise, where the bond between man and woman is full and harmonious, at once carnal and spiritual. In Borges” view, “the paradisiacal quality of the Island resides precisely in its abolition of the division and opposition between body and spirit, male and female, human and divine, mortal and immortal, activity and end, being and consciousness.

Aside from the mythological female figures, who belong to the mythical plane and are beyond history and free from original sin, the vision of women in Os Lusíadas reveals the general opinion of its time: women are all the more exalted the closer they come to the behavior of Mary, mother of Jesus, the ultimate model of Christian feminine perfection. Within this standard, their roles were that of daughter, mother, wife, housewife, and devotee, faithful, quiet, submissive, and ready to renounce their own lives to serve their husband, family, and country. In this line, the women of Restelo, Leonor Sepúlveda and Dona Filipa are the most praised, followed by Inês de Castro, who, even though she is a mistress, ends up being defended because of her fidelity to the prince, her “pure love,” her delicacy, her maternal concern for her children, her suffering, atonement, and “raw death. Meanwhile, Teresa and, even more, Leonor Teles, are severely condemned because of their behaviors discrepant from the Christian standard, endangering the nation.

Another significant theme that occurs in his poetry is the transience of things in the world, also worked through dialectical contrasts and other language games. In his work, Camões makes an elaborate meditation on the human condition, based on his laborious personal experience, which he sees reflected and multiplied in the world. This is why he developed a sense of fatalism: the world is ephemeral, the poet notes, man is weak and his will is precarious and powerless against the superior forces of destiny. It is the sea that suddenly brings the beloved maiden, it is war and disease that destroy lives still in bud, it is the distance that separates lovers, it is time that erodes hopes, it is experience that contradicts the beautiful dream, everything passes and the unforeseen surprises man at every step, everything passes, and the unexpected surprises man at every step, nullifying any possibility of maintaining the Renaissance perspective of harmony between man and the cosmos – from this comes disillusionment, disillusionment, a common concept in this field of his work, which makes him experience the bitterness of death while still alive. His mind finds itself lost in a sea of disjointed thoughts, he comes to say that life has no reason to exist and that trying to discover its meaning is as useless as it is dangerous, because thinking about the difficulties of life only deepens the pain of living and does not have the power to save him from man”s miserable reality. Composed after the shipwreck in the Orient, the famous redondilla Sobre os rios que vão (also known as Sôbolos rios que vão), illustrates this aspect of the Camonian work, from which three stanzas follow:

As for religion, Os Lusíadas is an uncompromising defense of Catholicism and a heavy attack on those who do not embrace it, criticizing the Protestants and especially the Muslim “infidels,” described almost invariably as cunning, deceitful, and despicable. He even criticizes Catholic countries like France for not vigorously defending their religion against the Protestant advance, and Italy itself, the seat of the papacy, for considering it to be fallen into vices. Even the constant presence of pagan gods in the poem does not contradict his orthodoxy, for at the time this was considered a natural poetic license and was so understood by the ecclesiastical censors. The theme of religion also appears in his lyrical production, as the following sonnet illustrates:

Afflicted by love failures, by the misery of the human condition, he even cursed the day he was born in a poem full of pessimism and discouragement. In the face of this, for Camões faith was the final answer to the “perplexities of the world”: the ultimate consolation is in God. Even if injustice prevails in life, in Heaven man will have a reward. He could also express his resignation and hope by saying that what seems “unjust to men and profound, to God is just and evident,” and those who accept suffering with patience will incur no further punishment.

Camões and language

Although Camões is the great model of the modern Portuguese language, and his work has been extensively studied from the aesthetic, historical, cultural and symbolic points of view, according to Verdelho relatively little study has been done on its philological aspects in the fields of syntax, semantics, morphology, phonetics and orthography, all the more so since the poet played an important role in fixing and giving authority to a literary tradition in Portuguese, when in his time Latin was a highly prestigious language for literary creation and for the transmission of knowledge and culture, and Spanish, which had always exerted a pressure, soon after the poet”s death became a serious threat to the survival of the Lusitanian language, because of the Iberian union. As Hernâni Cidade thinks, this indicates that Camões was aware of his linguistic situation and made a deliberate choice for the Portuguese language, and a strong linguistic interest transpires in his production, feeling “a permanent reflection on language, an acute sensitivity to the names of things, to words and the way of using them… In Os Lusíadas, for example, there are several times we can see the strangeness of the encounter with new languages.

In the little autograph correspondence that has survived, this interest is explicitly stated. In Letter III he tells a friend about the habit of the Lisbon panniers, who “always keep their words trimmed to speak to anyone who cares to speak, which I take great pains to do”. He noted the contempt to which the rustic speech of the peasants was subjected and gave a picturesque description of the polyglotism that he found prevailing in a brothel: “Some ladies were afraid of this deluge and built a tower of Babylon, where they took shelter; and I certify you that the languages are already so many that it will soon fall, because there you will see Moors, Jews, Castilians, Leonese, friars, clergymen, bachelors, young and old (sic)”. In Letter II, the poet described the language of the Indian girls, which was so rude that it cooled his romantic spirit: “They answer you with a language like a skein of vetch, that sticks in the throat of understanding, which throws water on the boil of the world”s warmth”.

His literary language has always been recognized as erudite; Faria e Sousa had already said that Camões did not write for the ignorant. The influence of his model had a profound effect on the evolution of the Portuguese language for centuries to come, and for a long time it was a standard taught in schools and academies, but Verdelho considers it closer to the speech of modern everyday communication in Portugal than the Portuguese used, for example, by the Portuguese writers of the Baroque or even by some contemporary authors. For the researcher, Camões” language maintains a remarkable proximity between linguistic and poetic codes, giving it a unique transparency and readability, without implying an overshadowing of its classical sources, Italian and Spanish, or a reduction in its complexity and refinement, lending itself to elaborate analysis. It is worth noting that Camões introduced a number of Latinisms into the current language, such as aéreo, áureo, celeuma, diligente, diáfano, excelente, aquático, fabuloso, pálido, radiante, reciproco, hemisfério and many others, a practice that significantly expanded the lexicon of his time. Baião called him a revolutionary in relation to the cultured Portuguese language of his generation, and Paiva analyzed some of the linguistic innovations brought by Camões saying:

According to Monteiro, of the great epic poets of the Western tradition Camões remains the least known outside his homeland and his masterpiece, The Lusiads, is the least known of the great poems of that tradition. However, from the time he lived and over the centuries Camões was praised by several non-Lusophone luminaries of Western culture. Torquato Tasso, who said Camões was the only rival he feared, dedicated a sonnet to him, Baltasar Gracián praised his sharpness and wit, in what was followed by Lope de Vega, Cervantes – who saw Camões as the “singer of Western civilization” – and Góngora. He was an influence on the work of John Milton and several other English poets, Goethe recognized his eminence, Sir Richard Burton considered him a master, Friedrich Schlegel called him a leading exponent of creation in epic poetry, opining that the “perfection” of Portuguese poetry was evident in his “beautiful poems,” and Humboldt had him as an admirable painter of nature. August-Wilhelm Schlegel wrote that Camões alone is worth an entire literature.

Camões” fame began to spread through Spain, where he had several admirers since the 16th century, with two translations of The Lusiads appearing in 1580, the year of the poet”s death, printed at the behest of Philip II of Spain, then also king of Portugal. In the title of Luis Gómez de Tápia”s edition, Camões is already cited as “famous”, and in Benito Caldera”s he was compared to Virgil, and almost worthy of equaling Homer. In addition, the king granted him the honorific title of “Prince of the poets of Spain,” which was printed in one of the editions. In Bergel”s reading, Philip was perfectly aware of the advantages of using, for his own purposes, an already established culture, rather than suppressing it. Being the son of a Portuguese princess, he had no interest in nullifying the Portuguese identity or its cultural achievements, and it was to his advantage to assimilate the poet into the Spanish orbit, both to ensure his legitimacy as sovereign of the united crowns and to enhance the luster of Spanish culture.

Soon his fame reached Italy; Tasso called him “cultured and good” and The Lusiads was translated twice in 1658, by Oliveira and Paggi. Later, associated with Tasso, he became an important paradigm in Italian Romanticism. By this time, a body of exegetes and commentators had already formed in Portugal, giving great depth to the study of Camões. In 1655 Os Lusíadas arrived in England in Fanshawe”s translation, but it would only gain notoriety there about a century later, with the publication of William Julius Mickle”s poetic version in 1776. It reached France in the early 18th century, when Castera published a translation of the epic and in the preface spared no praise for its art. Voltaire criticized certain aspects of the work, notably its lack of unity in action and mixture of Christian and pagan mythology, but he also admired the novelties it introduced in relation to other epics, contributing powerfully to its diffusion. Montesquieu claimed that Camões” poem had something of the charm of the Odyssey and the magnificence of the Aeneid. Between 1735 and 1874 no fewer than twenty French translations of the book appeared, not counting countless second editions and paraphrases of some of the most striking episodes. In 1777 Pieterszoon translated The Lusiads into Dutch and in the 19th century five more, partial ones, appeared.

In Poland The Lusiads was translated in 1790 by Przybylski, and since then it became intimately integrated into the Polish literary tradition, so much so that, because of its erudition, in the 19th century it was an indispensable element in local literary education and was intensively analyzed by Polish critics who saw it as the best epic of modern Europe. At the same time, the person of Camões, with his troubled life and his “misunderstood genius,” became an exemplary icon for the Polish romantic and nationalist generation that appropriated his figure, as Kalewska said, almost as if he were a Pole in disguise, exerting great impact on the formation of Polish nationalism and on successive generations of the country”s writers. In 1782 the first German translation appeared, albeit a partial one. The first integral version came to light between 1806 and 1807, the work of Herse, and at the end of the century Storck translated his complete works and offered a monumental study: Life and Work of Camões, translated into Portuguese by Michaëlis.

Camões was one of the strongest influences on the formation and evolution of Brazilian literature, an influence that started to be effective from the Baroque period, in the 17th century, as can be seen by the similarities between The Lusiads and the first Brazilian epic, Prosopopeia, by Bento Teixeira, from 1601. The poems of Gregório de Matos were also often taken from the Camões formal model, although their content and tone were quite different. But Gregório used parodies, collages, direct quotes, and even literal copies of excerpts from several of Camões” poems to construct his own. Gregório initiated a process of differentiation of Brazilian literature from Portuguese literature, but he could not avoid, at the same time, preserving much of the Camões tradition. During Arcadism, the practice of rutura parallel to recreation continued and the influence of Os Lusíadas appears in Basílio da Gama”s O Uraguai and in Friar Santa Rita Durão”s Caramuru, the two closest to the original source, both in form and worldview. The lyrics of Cláudio Manuel da Costa and Tomás António Gonzaga are also greatly indebted to Camões. Maria Martins Dias found Camões influence also on contemporary Brazilian literature, citing the cases of Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Haroldo de Campos.

During Romanticism, not only in Poland, as mentioned, but in several European countries, Camões was a symbolic figure of great prominence, popularizing versions of his biography that portrayed him as a kind of martyr genius, with a difficult life and further punished by the ingratitude of a country that failed to recognize the fame that he had brought to it. In Chaves” interpretation, the romantic recovery of Camões constituted a myth based both on his biography and on his legend, whose work fused elements of the beautiful imagination of the Italian tradition with the patriotic sublime of the classical tradition, conveying from the beginning of the 19th century “a liberal message of great human dimension… a recreator and an instrument of an important ancient literary tradition, a national hero of immutable destiny in which in his mythical existential path as in his work dreams, hopes, feelings and human passions were projected”.

For a long time, most of his fame rested solely on The Lusiads, but in recent decades his lyrical work has been regaining the high esteem it enjoyed until the 17th century. Interestingly, it was in England and the United States that a tradition, dating back to the 17th century, of balancing his prestige between the epic and the lyric remained most alive, including among his admirers, besides Milton and Burton, also William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Longfellow, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson and especially Elizabeth Browning, who was a great disseminator of his life and work. Much critical literature on Camões was also produced in these countries, as well as several translations.

The great interest in the life and work of Camões has already opened space for the establishment of Camonology as an autonomous discipline in universities, offered since 1924 at the Faculty of Letters of Lisbon and since 1963 at the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of the University of São Paulo. By the Additional Protocol to the Cultural Agreement between the Government of the Portuguese Republic and the Government of the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Camões Award, the highest literary award dedicated to literature in the Portuguese language, was established in 1986. It is given to authors who have contributed to the enrichment of the literary and cultural heritage of the language. The prize has been awarded to, among others, Miguel Torga, João Cabral de Melo Neto, Rachel de Queiroz, Jorge Amado, José Saramago, Sophia de Mello Breyner, Lygia Fagundes Telles, António Lobo Antunes, and João Ubaldo Ribeiro. Nowadays, studied and translated into all the main Western and some Eastern languages, it is almost a consensus to call him one of the greatest Western literati, on a par with Virgil, Shakespeare, Dante, Cervantes, and others of the same quality, and there are those who consider him one of the greatest in the history of humanity. Meeting in Macau in 1999, the World Organization of Poets paid tribute to the universalistic spirit of Luís de Camões, celebrating him as an author who transcended time and national barriers.


Although Camões” artistic merit was widely recognized, his work was not immune to criticism. The bishop of Viseu, Francisco Lobo, accused him of never having truly loved and, therefore, of having distorted love through poetic embellishment. For the critic, love “is not declared with such thoughtful tones and such affected style, as he so often does, or rather, as he does in all those places where he most intends to aggrandize himself. José Agostinho de Macedo, in his two-volume work Censura das Lusiadas, examined the poem and exposed what he considered to be its various defects, particularly in terms of plan and action, but also errors in metrics and grammar, going so far as to state that “Taking away from the poem the useless octaves, it would be reduced to nothing.” The following passage exemplifies well the style of his criticism: referring to the 14th octave (“Nor will they leave my verses forgotten

António José Saraiva, aligned to the theses of Marxism, lamented the lack of substance of his characters, who, for him, are more stereotypes than real people, are not flesh and blood heroes, and lack robustness and vigor. He also criticized that the action was always carried out by these heroes, without the Portuguese people having any participation. As he said, “the illustrious Lusitanian chest is nothing but an abstraction incapable of carnally conjuring up the successive feats of the warriors,” because they lack external characterization and the author lacks a broad historical vision, reducing history to the deeds of arms. He went on to say that Camões did not distance himself enough from the knightly ideal to be able to criticize it, “which puts him in the situation of appearing a bit like a Quixote who writes literature like the other invested (against) the giants,” attesting to his maladjustment in relation to his time and falling into ideological contradictions. In the same vein, Helgerson saw The Lusiads as a reaffirmation of the values of the aristocracy, attributing the merits of the nation to a single social class, and considered the epic treatment inconsistent with the general goals of Portuguese maritime exploration, which were largely purely commercial, generating internal contradictions on the ideological terrain and distorting historical facts.

Several other authors have considered Os Lusíadas as a propaganda piece and an illustration of the development of Portuguese colonialism, showing how intercultural encounters were solved excessively often in an aggressive and predatory way, and producing a discourse that glorified the Portuguese as divinely chosen and fostered the violence of the Counter-Reformation religious imperialism of which they were active instruments, as is evident in the repeated condemnation of the Moors by the voice of Camões. These authors say that the mythology of supremacy enshrined by Camões, when used by the Portuguese state, had dire consequences for all the Portuguese colonies, not only at that time, but in the long term, which are still visible in recent times, particularly in the oppressive official policy towards the African colonies that was in force during Salazar”s dictatorship in the 20th century. Synthesizing these views, Anthony Soares said that in Os Lusíadas the violence of discourse “paved the way for the physical violence upon which the identity of the Portuguese colonial empire was created,” also problematizing the future of modern Portuguese national identity. Naturally, the literature indigenous to the colonies of the Portuguese Empire could not at its inception fail to align itself with this ideology, but, as Eduardo Romo has pointed out, postcolonial production has been marked by the effort to clearly differentiate itself from the cultural model of the metropolis and to narrate the struggles for independence, in search of an identity of its own for these new nations. Still within the sphere of hegemonic discourses, Camões” work has been seen by feminist critics as an element of perpetuation of phallocratic ideologies. South African author Stephen Gray claims that the figure of Adamastor, the titan who is the personification of the Cape of Storms in The Lusiads, is at the root of a racist mythology on which white supremacy in South Africa rests. On the other hand, Camões has been defended from these attacks by several writers, who say that the meaning of his epic can vary greatly according to personal interpretation, that the author in the same work expressed his doubts about the conquest, and that Camões cannot be blamed for being erected as a symbol of his homeland and used as a political instrument.

Portuguese national symbol

The identification of Camões and his work as symbols of the Portuguese nation seems to date, as Vanda Anastácio believes, from the beginning of the dual monarchy of Philip II of Spain, because apparently the monarch understood that it would be of interest to prestige them as part of his policy to ensure the legitimacy of his reign over the Portuguese, which justifies his order to print two translations in Castilian of The Lusiads in 1580, by the universities of Salamanca and Alcalá de Henares, and without submitting them to ecclesiastical censorship. But Camões became especially important in Portugal in the nineteenth century, when, as stated by Lourenço, Freeland, Souza and other authors, Os Lusíadas underwent a process of re-reading and mythification by some of the exponents of local Romanticism, such as Almeida Garrett, Antero de Quental, and Oliveira Martins, who placed him as a symbol of history and the destiny that would be reserved for the country. Even the poet”s biography was readapted and romanticized to serve their interests, introducing a messianic note about him in the popular imagination of the time. The main goals of this movement were to offset the nostalgia for glory days and the then prevailing perception of Portugal as a minor periphery of Europe, and to give its history a more positive meaning, opening up new prospects for the future.

This trend reached a high point on the occasion of the commemorations of the three-hundredth anniversary of the poet”s death, which took place between June 8 and 10, 1880. At a time of crisis that Portugal was going through, when the legitimacy of the monarchy was being questioned and strong demands for democracy were being heard, the figure of the poet became a focus for the political cause and a reason for reaffirmations of the Portuguese value against a positivist ideological backdrop, aggregating different segments of society, as summarized in newspaper reports: “Camões” Centennial at this historical moment, and in this crisis of the spirits has the significance of a national revival “The agreement between the scientific conclusions of the highest intelligences of Europe and the intuition of the popular soul that finds in Camões the representative of an entire literature and the synthesis of nationality is sublime”… “All the living forces of the nation were united in this great homage to the memory of the man whose soul was the grand synthesis of the Portuguese soul. Suggestively, the organizing committee for the festivities was called the “Committee of Public Salvation”. Several critical studies came to light at the time, including foreign ones, and the party in the streets attracted huge crowds. The tricentennial was celebrated in Brazil with similar enthusiasm, with publication of studies and ceremonies in many cities, overflowing intellectual circles, and became a pretext for closer relations between the two countries. In several other countries the date was reported and commemorated.

During the Estado Novo, this ideology was not much changed in essence, but in the way it was interpreted. The vate and his masterpiece became propagandistic instruments of state consolidation and an idea was then spread that Camões was not only a national symbol, but a symbol whose meaning was so particular to the Portuguese sensibility that it could only be understood by the Portuguese themselves. The irony is that this approach generated unforeseen contrary effects, and that same state, especially after World War II, complained that the international community did not understand Portugal.

Three years after the April Revolution of 1974, Camões was publicly associated with the Portuguese communities overseas, making the date of his death the “Day of Portugal, Camões and the Portuguese Communities,” in order to dissolve the image of Portugal as a colonizing country and create a new sense of national identity that encompassed the many Portuguese immigrants scattered around the world. This new ideology was reaffirmed in the 1980s with the publication of Camões and National Identity, a volume produced by Imprensa Nacional containing statements by important public figures of the nation. Its status as a national symbol remains to this day, and further evidence of its power as such was the transformation, in 1992, of the Institute of Portuguese Language and Culture into the Camões Institute, which moved from the administration of the Ministry of Education to that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Having influenced the evolution of Portuguese literature since the 17th century, Camões continues to be a reference for many contemporary writers, both in terms of form and content and by becoming himself a character in other literary and dramaturgical productions. Vasco Graça Moura considers him the greatest figure in all of Portuguese history, for having been the founder of the modern Portuguese language, for having understood, like no other, the great trends of his time, and for having managed to give shape, through words, to a sense of national identity and to rise to the condition of symbol of that identity, transmitting a message that remains alive and current. And as Iolanda Ramos stated


  1. Luís de Camões
  2. Luís de Camões
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