The Author as Character: Representing Historical Writers in Western Literature

By Paul Franssen; Ton Hoenselaars | Go to book overview

Camões: A Portuguese Renaissance Poet in
Brazilian Popular Literature

RIA LEMAIRE

Like many other European countries, Portugal has its great Renaissance poet: Luís de Camões, the author of the national epic Os Lusíadas, or The Lusiads, which celebrates the heroic enterprise of the discovery of the maritime itinerary to India (1498) and, in doing so, glorifies the Golden Age of Portuguese history, the period of the discoveries. Camões's life, like that of many other national icons, has been constructed in various often antithetical ways, to serve different interests. This essay focuses on two contrasting images of Camões: the national hero sanctioned by official culture within Portugal itself, and the far less respectable vagrant poet appropriated by the oral tradition of one of Portugal's former colonies, Brazil.

Very few historical documents tell us about Camões's life; we do not know when or where he was born, nor where and how he acquired the vast knowledge, erudition, and wisdom that confronts the reader of The Lusiads in its 10 cantos and 1,122 stanzas, composed in ottava rima. Scholars generally suppose that Camões was born in 1524 or 1525. His parents belonged to the poor, lower nobility. As a young man, he lived at the court in Lisbon for some time and was sent to Africa, where he fought against the Moors and lost his right eye. Back in Lisbon, he lived the turbulent life of a bohemian for some years, which landed him in prison. An official letter from the king of Portugal released him, saying that the prisoner “is a young man without fortune who is going to serve me in India.”1 For seventeen years Camões led a life full of adventures and misfortunes in the Orient. He was in Canton and suffered a shipwreck along the coast of Cochinchina in 1561; he stayed in Goa for some time, where he was imprisoned once again; he traveled through the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, to China and Macau. In 1567, debt-ridden, he decided to return to Portugal. Unable to pay at once the entire voyage to Lisbon, he had to stay in Mozam-

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