Portuguese Literature

Portuguese literature, writings in Portuguese. The literature of Brazil is considered separately (see Brazilian literature).

Early Works

Literature in the Portuguese language first emerged in lyric poetry, the courtly love poems collected in cancioneiros [song books]. The earliest of these, three in number, are the Cancioneiro da Ajuda, da Vaticana, and Colocci-Brancuti, written in the 13th cent. In the early 20th cent. the scholarly work of Carolina Micaëlis de Vasconcelos on the Cancioneiro da Ajuda opened large vistas into the past of Portuguese literature. The early poems were greatly influenced by the Provençal language and literature, but they had the individual flavor and meter of Portuguese and Galician, then a dialect of Portuguese (see Provençal literature). King Dinis, who ruled Portugal in the late 13th and early 14th cent., was an accomplished poet and, like his father, Alfonso III, followed the Provençal custom of encouraging poetic activity in his court.

Prose writing took longer to develop. Religious and historical writings ultimately led to the romances of chivalry, the progenitor of which, Amadis of Gaul, most likely originated in Portugal. Among the greatest achievements of medieval Portuguese prose are the vivid and well-documented chronicles written by Fernão Lopes (c.1380–c.1460) and Gomes Eanes de Zurara (c.1420–c.1474). Portuguese poetry in the 15th cent. was marked by the influence of Spain, which can be seen in Garcia de Resende's collection, Cancioneiro geral (1516).

The Renaissance through the Seventeenth Century

The impact of the Renaissance in Portugal was particularly strong in poetry and drama. The plays of Gil Vicente, who wrote in both Portuguese and Spanish, are infused with the Renaissance spirit, particularly the ideals of humanism. The Italianate school strongly influenced 16th-century Portuguese poetry. The humanist Francisco de Sá de Miranda introduced new poetic forms upon his return from Italy. He, Diogo Bernardes, and others mastered the new forms of lyric poetry, which reached their highest point in the works of Luis de Camões. Camões, known for his national epic Os Lusídas [the Portuguese] (1572), was also the author of a superb body of lyric poems. Sá de Miranda and his followers also introduced the prose comedy and tragedy into Portugal.

The Renaissance saw a spate of writing by historians who chronicled the discoveries and conquests in Africa, Asia, and America. João de Barros ranks among the best of these. The Portuguese Bernardim Ribeiro's pastoral novel Menina e Moça [the book of the young girl] (1554) was certainly the inspiration in part for the Spanish Jorge de Montemayor's Diana (1559), one of the most important novels in Spanish literature. The leading figures of the 17th cent. were the poet Francisco Rodrigues Lobo (1580–1622) and the prose writer Francisco Manuel de Melo (1608–66), whose writings stand out in a century mainly marked by subservience to Spanish form and style, especially Gongorism.

Literary Movements of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

The 18th cent. developed gradually into the literary revolution that was the romantic movement (see romanticism). Liberal ideas from abroad invaded every branch of letters and learning. João B. de Almeida Garrett, the chief exponent of French-inspired romanticism, exercised great influence over a generation of poets, playwrights, and novelists. Through his historical novels, a history of Portugal, and numerous pamphlets and journalistic endeavors, Alexandre Herculano de Carvalho e Araújo provided substantial support for the romantic, liberal, and anticlerical movements that helped shape Portuguese culture and politics in the 19th cent.

A group of dissident poets, including Antero de Quental, Téofilo Braga, and Abílio Manuel Guerra Junqueiro, revolted against romanticism and laced their works with philosophical and social ideas. José Maria Eça de Queiroz introduced realism into the novel and set the tone for the next half century. Historiography, of a more narrative than scientific sort, flourished at the same time. Joaquim P. de Oliveira Martins was one of the more popular writers of this genre.

The Twentieth Century

The modern period in Portuguese letters dates from the establishment of the republic in 1910. Various writers fostered suadosismo, a cult of nostalgia and regret over an unrecoverable and mythic past. Later writing became more sensitive to developments in other countries. Fernando Pessoa, largely unrecognized during his lifetime, would be acclaimed later as the greatest modern Portuguese poet, and José Régio distinguished himself as a poet and playwright. The novel was cultivated by Aquilino Ribeiro, J. M. Ferreira de Castro, Alves Redol, Fernando Namora, Agustina Bessa Luís, and others.

In the early 1970s Portuguese literary circles were shaken by the publication of a volume of collected notes, stories, letters, and poems by Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta, and Maria Velho da Costa. Banned because of its erotic and feminist nature, the book was allowed to circulate after the collapse of the Salazar dictatorship in Apr., 1974. In the United States the book was published as The Three Marias: New Portuguese Letters (1975).

Reflecting the influence of French literary theory, Portuguese literature since 1974 has often focused on the linguistic and technical aspects of narrative. Important contemporary novelists include José Cardosa-Piresa, Olga Gonçalves, Lídia Jorge, António Lobo Antunes, and José Saramago, who is internationally recognized as one of the great modern writers of fiction (he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998). Important poets include Eugénio de Andrade and António Ramos Rosa.

The late 20th cent. has also seen the rise of Portuguese literature in Africa: in Angola, the poet Agostinho Neto and the novelist Luadino Vieira; in Mozambique, the novelist Luís Bernardo Howana; in Cape Verde, the novelists Manuel Lopes, Orlanda Amarilis, and Manuel Ferreira.


See B. Vidigal, ed. Oxford Book of Portuguese Verse (2d ed. 1952); A. F. G. Bell, Portuguese Literature (rev. ed. 1970); R. Sousa, The Rediscoverers (1981); M. J. Schneider and I. Stern, Modern Spanish and Portuguese Literatures (1988).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Portuguese Literature: Selected full-text books and articles

Culture and Customs of Portugal By Carlos A. Cunha; Rhonda Cunha Greenwood, 2010
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Literature"
The Oxford Guide to Contemporary Writing By John Sturrock Oxford University Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: Chap. 20 "Portugal"
Spain and Portugal Today By Julia L. Ortiz-Griffin; William D. Griffin Peter Lang, 2003
Eca De Queiros By Coleman, Alexander New Criterion, Vol. 17, No. 8, April 1999
Francisco Rodrigues Lobo: Dialogue and Courtly Lore in Renaissance Portugal By Richard A. Preto-Rodas University of North Carolina Press, 1971
Portuguese Literature By Aubrey F. G. Bell Clarendon Press, 1922
The Book of the Epic: The World's Great Epics Told in Story By H. A. Guerber Biblo and Tannen, 1966
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Encyclopedia of the Essay By Tracy Chevalier Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997
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