Luis Vaz De Camoens Biography | Poet
CAMOENS [CamŌes], LUIS VAZ DE (1524-1580), the prince of Portuguese poets, sprang from an illustrious and wealthy family of Galician origin, whose seat, called the castle of Camoens, lay near Cape Finisterre. His ancestor, the poet Vasco Pires de Camoens, followed the party of Peter the Cruel of Castile against Henry II., and on the defeat of the former had to take refuge along with other Galician nobles in Portugal, where he founded the Portuguese family of his name. King Fernando received him well, and gave him posts of honour and estates, and though the master of Aviz sequestered some of these and Vasco lost others after the battle of Aljubarrota, where he fought on the Spanish side, considerable possessions still remained to him. Antão Vaz, the grandfather of Luis, married one of the Algarve Gamas, so that Vasco da Gama and Camoens, the discoverer of the sea route to India and the poet who immortalized the voyage in his Lusiads, were kinsmen. Antão’s eldest son Simão Vaz was born in Coimbra at the close of the 15th century, and married Anna de Sá e Macedo, who bore him an only son, Luis Vaz de Camoens; thus the poet, like his father and grandfather, was a cavalleiro fidalgo, that is, an untitled noble.
Four cities dispute the honour of being his birthplace, though Lisbon has the better title; and there is a like dispute about the year, which, however, was almost certainly 1524. The poet spent his childhood in Coimbra, where his father owned a property, and made his first studies at the college of All Saints, designed for “honourable poor students,” and there contracted friendships with noblemen like D. Gonçalo da Silveira and his brother D. Alvaro, who were inmates of the nobles’ college of St Michael. These colleges were offshoots from and attached to the Augustinian monastery of Santa Cruz, an important religious and scholastic establishment, where the poet’s uncle D. Bento de Camoens, a virtuous and very learned man, was professed. The Renaissance, though late in penetrating into Portugal, had by this time definitely triumphed, and the university of Coimbra, after its reform in 1537 under the auspices of King John III., boasted the best teachers drawn from every country, among them George Buchanan. The possession of classical culture was regarded as the mark of a gentleman; the colleges of Santa Cruz required conversation within the walls to be in Greek or Latin, and the university, when it absorbed the colleges, adopted the same rule. In these surroundings, aided by a retentive memory, Camoens steeped himself in the literature and mythology of the ancients, as his works show, and he was thus able in after years to perfect the Portuguese language and to enrich it with many neologisms of classical origin. It is fortunate, however, for his country and his fame that he never followed the fashion of writing in Latin; on the contrary, except for his Spanish poems, he always employed his native tongue. After completing his grammar and rhetoric the poet entered on his university course for the degree of bachelor of arts, which lasted for three years, from 1539 to 1542, and during this period he met Jorge 116de Montemayor, the author of Dianá, who was then studying music. He seems to have imbibed much of that encyclopaedic instruction to which the humanists aspired, for his writings show a very extensive reading, and his scientific knowledge and faculty of observation compelled the admiration of the great Humboldt. The thoroughness of his teaching is apparent when we remember that he wrote his epic in the fortresses of Africa and Asia, far from books, and yet gave proof of acquaintance with universal history, geography, astronomy, Greek and Latin literature, and the modern poetry of Italy and Spain. Much of the credit for this learning must be attributed to the encouragement of D. Bento, now prior of Santa Cruz, who became chancellor of the university the very year when Camoens entered it. There is a tradition that this uncle destined him for the church and caused him to study theology. The poet’s knowledge of dogma and the Bible, his friendly intercourse with the Lisbon Dominicans at the end of his life, and the share he is said to have taken in their disputations, make the hypothesis a likely one, but he made his own choice and preferred a lay life. We have very little verse of his Coimbra time, but it seems that he began in the Italian manner, following the new classical school of Sá de Miranda (q.v.), and that, though attached to the popular muse and well acquainted with the national songs and romances, legends and lore, his poetry in the old style (medida velha) is mostly of later date. An exception may perhaps be found in his Auto after the manner of Gil Vicente (q.v.), The Amphitryons, a Portuguese adaptation from Plautus which was very well received. At the age of eighteen Camoens left Coimbra, bidding adieu to the old city in verses breathing the most tender saudade. Lisbon, which impressed Cervantes so much as to draw from him a classic description in the novel Persiles y Sigismunda, made an even greater impression on the youthful Camoens, and the Lusiads are full of eulogistic epithets on the city and the Tagus.
Arriving in 1543, it has been conjectured that he became tutor to D. Antonio de Noronha, son of the great noble D. Francisco de Noronha, count of Linhares, who had lately returned from a French embassy to his palace at Xabregas. The poet’s birth and talents admitted him to the society of men like D. Constantine de Braganza, the duke of Aveiro, the marquis of Cascaes, the count of Redondo, D. Manoel de Portugal and D. Gonçalo da Silveira, son of the count of Sortelha, who died a Christian martyr in Monomotapa. At Xabregas Camoens must have met Francisco de Moraes (q.v.), who had served as secretary to the count of Linhares on his embassy, and there he probably read the MS. of Palmeirim; this would explain the origin of two of his roundels which are clearly founded on passages in the romance. Camoens had had a youthful love affair in Coimbra, but on Good Friday of the year 1544 he experienced the passion of his life. On that day in some Lisbon church he caught sight of D. Catherina de Ataide (daughter of D. Antonio de Lima, high chamberlain to the infant D. Duarte), who had recently become a lady-in-waiting to the queen. This young girl, the Nathercia of his after songs, counted then some thirteen years, and was destined to be his Beatrice. To see more of her, he persuaded the count of Linhares to introduce him to the court, where his poetical gifts and culture ensured him a ready welcome, and his fifth idyll, addressed to his patron on this occasion, paved the way for his entrance. Though inferior to his later compositions, it excels in harmony any verse previously written in Portuguese. At first his suit probably met with few difficulties, and if Catherina’s family regarded it seriously, their poverty, combined with the fact that the poet came of a good stock and had the future in his hands, may have prevented any real opposition. It was his own imprudence that marred his fortunes, and his consciousness of this fact gave his muse that moving expression, truth and saudade, which are lacking in the somewhat artificial productions of the sentimental Petrarch. But while Camoens gained protectors and admirers, his temperament and conduct ensured him envious foes, and the secret of his love got out and became the subject of gossip. All was not smooth with the lady, who showed herself coy; now yielding to her heart, she was kind; and then listening to her friends, who would have preferred a better match for her, she repelled her lover. Jealousy then seized him, and sick of court life for the moment, he gladly accompanied his patron to the latter’s country house; but once there he recognized that Lisbon was the centre of attraction for him and that he could not be happy at a distance. His verses at this time reveal his parlous condition. He oscillates between joy and depression. He passes from tender regrets to violent outbursts, which are followed by calm and peace, while expressions of passionate love alternate with bold desires and lofty ambitions. It is clear that there was an understanding between him and Catherina and that they looked forward to a happy ending, and this encouraged him in his weary waiting and his search for a lucrative post which would enable him to approach her family and ask for her hand. From this period date the greater part of his roundels and sonnets, some of the odes and nearly all the eclogues.
His fifth eclogue shows that he was seriously thinking of his patriotic poem in 1544; and from the fourth it seems likely that the Lusiads were in course of composition, and that cantos 3 and 4 were practically completed. He had by now established his fame and was known as the Lusitanian Virgil, but presently he had a rude awakening from his dreams of love and glory. He had shown his affection too openly, and some infraction of court etiquette, about which the queen was strict, caused the tongue of scandal to wag; perhaps it was an affair with one of Catherina’s brothers, even a duel, that led to the decree which exiled him from Lisbon.
Camoens’s rashness, self-confidence and want of respect for the authorities all contributed to the penalty, and the composition of the play El Rei Seleuco would aggravate his offence in the eyes of John III. Produced in 1545 and derived from Plutarch, the plot was calculated to draw attention to the relations between the king and his stepmother, and to recall the action of D. Manoel in robbing his son John III. of his intended bride. Camoens composed it for a wedding festivity in the house of Estacio da Fonseca, and some of the verses refer so openly to his passion, that if, as is likely, he spoke them himself, emphasizing them with voice and gesture so as to publish his love to the world, this new boldness, combined with the subject of the piece, must have rendered his exile a certainty. All we know definitely, however, is that the court was henceforth closed to him, and in 1546 he had to leave Lisbon, the abode of his love and the scene of his triumph. Tradition says that he went to the Ribatejo and spent seven or eight months with his mother’s relatives in or near Santarem, whence he poured out a number of his finest poems, including his Elegy of Exile and some magnificent sonnets, which, in vigour of ideas and beauty of expression, exceeded anything he had hitherto produced. Poets cannot live on bays, however, and pressed by necessity he determined to become a soldier.
One of his best modern biographers thinks that he petitioned the king for liberty to commute his penalty into military service in Africa; but whether this be so, or whether he merely went there to gain his spurs, certain it is that in the autumn of 1547 he proceeded to Ceuta. For the next two years, the usual period of service there, he lived the routine life of a common soldier in this famous trade emporium and outpost-town, and he lost his right eye in a skirmish with the Moroccans, though some writers make the incident occur on the voyage across the straits when his ship was attacked by Sallee rovers. Elegy ii. and a couple of odes date from his stay in Ceuta. He is full of sadness and almost in despair, but is saved from suicide by love and memory of the past. He has intervals of calm and resignation, even of satirical humour, and these become more frequent as the term of his exile draws near, and in one of them he wrote his prose letter to a “Lisbon friend.” The octaves on the Discontent of the World, which breathe a philosophic equanimity and lift the reader out of the tumult of daily life, go to show that his restless heart had found peace at last and that he had accustomed himself to solitude.
In November 1549 the aged governor of Ceuta, D. Affonso de Noronha, was summoned to court and created viceroy of India, 117and Camoens accompanied him to Lisbon, intending to follow him to the East in the armada which was due to sail in the spring of 1550. Reaching the capital in December, the poet almost immediately enlisted, but when the time came for departure he had changed his mind. His affection for Catherina and dreams of literary glory detained him, and he lived on in the expectation of obtaining a post on the strength of his services and wound. But month after month passed by without result, and in his disappointment he allied himself with a group of hot-blooded youths, including the ex-friar Antonio Ribeiro, nicknamed “the Chiado”, after whom the main street of Lisbon takes its name, and endeavoured to forget his troubles in their society. He took part in their extravagances and gained the name of “Trinca-fortes” (“Crack-braves”) from his bohemian companions, while there were ladies who mocked at his disfigurement, dubbing him “devil” and “eyeless face”. In the course of his adventures he had often to draw his sword, either as attacker or attacked, and he boasted that he had seen the soles of the feet of many but none had seen his. When the reply to his application came from the palace it was a negative one, and he had now nothing further to expect. His stock of money brought from Ceuta was certainly exhausted, and misery stared him in the face, making him desperate. On the feast of Corpus Christi, the 16th of June 1552, he found two masked friends of his engaged in a street fight near St Dominic’s convent, and joining in the fray he wounded one Gonçalo Borges, a palace servant, with the result that he was apprehended and lodged in gaol. This unprovoked attack upon a royal servant on so holy a day constituted a serious offence and cost him eight months’ imprisonment. In a pathetic sonnet he describes his terrible experiences, which made such an impression on him that years afterwards he recurred to them in his great autobiographical Canzon 10. When Borges’ wound was completely healed, the poet’s friends intervened to assist him, and it was arranged that on his formally imploring pardon Borges should grant it and desist from proceeding with the case. This was effected on the 13th of February 1553, and on the 7th of March the king, taking into consideration that Camoens was “a youth and poor and decided to serve this year in India”, confirmed the pardon. He had been obliged to humble his pride and enlist again, but while he complained of his troubles he recognized, in his frank, honest way, that his own mistakes were in part the causes of them.
After bidding good-bye to Catherina for the last time, Camoens set sail on Palm Sunday, the 24th of March 1553, in the “S. Bento”, the flagship of a fleet of four vessels, under Fernaõ Alvares Cabral. His last words, he says in a letter, were those of Scipio Africanus, “Ingrata patria, non possidebis ossa mea”.
He relates some of his experiences on board and the events of the voyage in various sonnets in Elegy iii. and in the Lusiads. In those days the sailors navigated the ships, while the men-at-arms kept the day and night watches, helped in the cleaning and, in case of necessity, at the pumps, but the rank of Camoens doubtless saved him from manual work. He had much time to himself in his six months’ voyage and was able to lay in a store of nautical knowledge, while tempestuous weather off the Cape of Good Hope led him to conceive the dramatic episode of Adamastor (Lusiads, canto 5). The “S. Bento”, the best ship of the fleet, weathered the Cape safely, and without touching at Mozambique, the watering-place of ships bound for India, anchored at Goa in September. It seems probable that the idea of the Lusiads took further shape on the voyage out, and that Camoens modified his plan; cantos 3 and 4 were already written, but from an historical he now made it a maritime epic. The discovery of India became the main theme, while the history of Portugal was interlaced with it, and the poem ended with the espousals between Portugal and the ocean, and a prophecy of the future greatness of the fatherland.
At the time of his arrival Goa boasted 100,000 inhabitants, and with its magnificent harbour was the commercial capital of the west of India. The first viceroy had been content with a sea dominion, but the great Affonso de Albuquerque saw that this was not enough to secure the supremacy of the Portuguese; recognizing the strategic value of Goa, he seized it and made it the capital of a land empire, and built fortresses in every important point through the East. Since his death a succession of remarkable victories had made the flag of Portugal predominant, but the enervating climate, the pleasures and the plunder of Asia, began to tell on the conquerors. Corruption was rife from the governor downwards, because the ruling ambition was to get rich and return home, and the hero of one day was a pirate the next. After all, it was only human nature, for a governorship lasted but three years and Portugal was far away, so the saying went round—“They are installed the first year, they rob the second, and then pack up in the third to sail away.” Camoens was well received at first, owing to his talents and bravery, and he found the life cheap and merry, but having left his country with high ideals, the injustice and demoralization of manners he found in India soon disgusted him. He compared Goa to Babylon, and called it “the mother of villains and the stepmother of honest men.”
His first military service in the East took place in November 1553, when he went with a force led by the viceroy to chastise a petty king on the Malabar coast. The expedition only lasted two or three months, and after some trivial combats it returned to Goa. In February of the following year Camoens accompanied the viceroy’s son, D. Fernando de Menezes, who led an armada to the mouth of the Red Sea and thence up the Arabian coast to snap up hostile merchantmen and suppress piracy. Next the fleet went on to Ormuz, as was the custom with these annual cruises, and then to Bassora, where the poet helped to make some valuable prizes, and wrote a sonnet—it was ever, with him, “in one hand the sword, in the other the pen”! Returning to Goa in November he learnt of the deaths of Prince John, and of his friend and pupil the young D. Antonio de Noronha, and paid his tribute in a feeling sonnet and eclogue. In February 1555 he sailed on another pirate hunt and spent six weary months off Cape Guardafui, varied by a visit to Mombasa and by further work on his epic, and only got back to Goa in the following September. His experiences are recorded in the profound and sad 10th Canzon.
Meanwhile Francisco Barreto, an honourable and generous man, had become governor-general of India in the June of 1555, and, his appointment being popular, a reign of festivities began in Golden Goa to welcome his succession, in the course of which Camoens produced his Filodemo, a dramatized novel written in his court days. The same occasion probably gave birth to the Disparates na India (“Follies of India”), and certainly to theSatyra do Torneio (“Satire of the Tourney”), which confirmed the poet’s reputation as a sayer of sharp things and gave considerable umbrage to those whom the cap fitted. However, it was not the enmities thus aroused but military duty which compelled him to quit Goa once more in the spring of 1556. He had enlisted in Lisbon for five years, the usual term, and in compliance with the orders of the governor he sailed for the Moluccas in April and there fought and versified for two years, though nearly all is guesswork at this period of his life. He appears to have spent the time between September 1556 and February 1557 in the island of Ternate, where he wrote Canzon 6, revealing a state of moral depression similar to that of Canzon 10, and he perhaps visited Banda and Amboina. In the following year he took part in the military occupation of Macao, which the emperor of China had presented to the Portuguese in return for their destruction of a pirate fleet which had besieged Canton. The poet’s five years’ term of service was now over, and he remained at Macao many months waiting for a ship to carry him back to India. He had made some profit out of the Mercî de Viagem, granted by the governor Barreto to free him from the poverty in which he habitually lived, and he spent his money royally. At the same time he continued his epic, working in the grotto which still bears his name.
All seemed to be going smoothly with him until suddenly his fortunes took a serious turn for the worse. As the result of an intrigue the captain of the yearly ship from China to India, who acted as governor of Macao during his stay in port, imprisoned 118Camoens, and took him on board with a view of bringing him to trial in India. The ship, however, was wrecked in October 1559 at the mouth of the Mekong river, and the poet had to save his life and his Lusiads by swimming to shore, and though he preserved the six or seven finished cantos of the poem, he lost everything else. While wandering about on the Cambodian coast awaiting the monsoon and a vessel to take him to Malacca, he composed those magnificent stanzas “By the Waters of Babylon,” called by Lope de Vega “the pearl of all poetry,” in which he recalls the happy days of his youth, sighs for Lisbon (Sion) and his love, and mourns his long exile from home. He got somehow to Malacca, and after a short stay there reached Goa, still as prisoner, in June 1561. He was straightway lodged in gaol, where he heard for the first time of the death of Catherina, and he poured out his grief in the great sonnet, Alma Minha Gentil. The viceroy, D. Constantius de Bragança, had recently returned from Jafanapatam, bringing as prize a tooth of Buddha, and Camoens approached him with a splendid epistle in twenty octaves, after the manner of Horace’s ode to Augustus. It failed, however, to hasten the consideration of his case, but in September the Conde de Redondo, a good friend, came into office and immediately ordered his release from prison. His troubles were not yet at an end, however, for one Miguel Rodriguez Coutinho, a well-known soldier and citizen of Goa who lent money at usurious rates, thought the opportunity a good one to obtain repayment of a debt, and had Camoens lodged once more in gaol. As soon as he came out the poet composed a burlesque roundel satirizing his persecutor under the nickname of Fios Seccos (“dry threads”).
Though very poor he now led an easier, even a pleasant life for a time. He was able to see his friends D. Vasco de Ataide, D. Francisco de Almeida, Heitor da Silveira, João Lopes Leitaõ and Francisco de Mello, all men of family and note. One day he invited them to a banquet, at which, instead of the usual dishes, each guest was served with a set of witty verses, and after these had been read out and chaff had gone round, the food came and they formed a merry party. The poet used his interest with the viceroy to recommend to him the naturalist Garcia da Orta, whoseColloquies on the simples and drugs of the East, the first product of the press in India, appeared in April 1563 with an ode by Camoens. His life for the next three years is almost a blank, but we know that he was hard at work finishing his epic, assisted by the advice of the historian Diogo do Couto, who became its commentator, and further that the new viceroy, his friend D. Antão de Noronha, nominated him to a reversion of the factory of Chaul, which, however, never fell into possession. It is clear from his writings that fourteen years in the East had told on Camoens. His best friends were dead or scattered, and he was overwhelmed with saudade. His sole ambition was to go home and print his poem, but he had no money to pay his passage. In September 1567, however, Pedro Barreto was named captain of Mozambique, and insisted on the poet accompanying him to Sofala, at the same time lending him two hundred cruzades. It was part of the way home, so Camoens accepted, but after they reached Mozambique Barreto called in this money, and his debtor, being unable to pay, was detained there for two whole years. Here Diogo do Couto found him “so poor that he ate at the cost of friends, and in order that he might embark for the Kingdom we friends collected for him the clothes he needed and some gave him to eat, and that winter he finished perfecting the Lusiads for the press and wrote much in a book he was making, which he called Parnaso of Luiz de Camoes, a book of much learning, doctrine and philosophy, which was stolen from him.” Thanks to Couto and others, Camoens was able to liquidate his debt and set sail in November 1569 in the “Santa Clara,” and he reached Portugal on the 7th of April 1570, after an absence of seventeen years.
The only wealth he brought with him from India was the MS. of his great poem, a ”Tesoro del Luso” in the words of Cervantes. Moreover, he returned at an unfortunate moment—one of pest and famine. The great plague which had killed a quarter, or, as some say, half of the population of the capital, was declining, but a rigid quarantine prevailed, and the ship had to lie off Cascaes until the sanitary authorities allowed her to enter the Tagus. Camoens was welcomed by his mother, whom he found “very old and very poor”—his father had died at Goa about 1555—and after a visit to Catherina’s tomb, which inspired the poignant sonnet 337, he set about obtaining the royal licence to print the Lusiads. This was dated the 24th of September 1571 and gave him a ten years’ copyright, and as soon as the book appeared some friendly and influential hand, perhaps D. Manoel de Portugal, perhaps D. Francisca de Aragão for whom he had rhymed in the happy days of his youth, presented the national epic to King Sebastian. Shortly afterwards, on the 28th of July 1572, the king gave the poet a pension of fifteen milreis for the term of three years, as a reward for his services in India and for his poem. It was relatively a considerable sum, seeing that he had no great military record, and it seems even generous when we remember that Magellan had only received twelve, and had left Portugal because King Manoel would not give him a slight increase. Many functionaries with families had less to live on, and Camoens’s subsistence was secure for the time being, and he could afford an attendant, so that the legend of the slave Antonio may well be true. Moreover, he was in the enjoyment of the fame his poem brought him. Philip II. is said to have read and admired it, and the powerful minister, Pedro de Alcaçova Carneiro, echoed the general opinion when he remarked that it had only one defect, in not being short enough to learn by heart or long enough to have no ending. Tributes came from abroad too. Tasso wrote and sent Camoens a sonnet in his praise, Fernando de Herrera celebrated him, and the year 1580 saw the publication of two Spanish versions, one at Alcalá, the other at Salamanca. His pension lapsed in 1575, but on the 2nd of August it was renewed for a further term; owing, however, to a mistake of the treasury officials, Camoens drew nothing for about a year and a half and fell into dire distress. This explains the story of Ruy da Camara, who had engaged him to translate the penitential psalms, and not receiving the version, called on the poet, who said in excuse that he had no spirit for such work now that he wanted for everything, and that his slave had asked him for a penny for fuel and he could not give it.
On the 2nd of June 1578, just before his start for the expedition to Africa which cost him his life and Portugal her independence, King Sebastian had renewed the poet’s pension for a further period. Though Camoens had neither the health nor the means to accompany the splendid train of nobles and courtiers who followed the last crusading monarch to his doom, he began an epic to celebrate the enterprise, but burnt it when he heard the news of the battle of Alcacer. Instead, he mourned the death of his royal benefactor in a magnificent sonnet, and in Elegy x. reproached the cowardly soldiery who contributed to the rout. On the 31st of January 1580 the cardinal king Henry died, and, foreseeing the Spanish invasion, Camoens wrote in March to his old friend D. Francisco de Almeida: “All will see that I so loved my country that I was content not only to die in her but with her.” A great plague had been raging in Lisbon since the previous year, and the poet, who lay ill in his poor cottage in the rua de Santa Anna, depressed by the calamities of his country, fell a victim to it. He was removed to a hospital and there passed away, unmarried and the last of his line, on the 10th of June 1580. A Carmelite, Frei José Indio, attended him in his last moments and received the only recognition Camoens could give, his copy of theLusiads. He wrote afterwards: “What more grievous thing than to see so great a genius thus unfortunate. I saw him die in a hospital in Lisbon, without a sheet to cover him, after having triumphed in the East Indies and sailed 5000 leagues by sea.” The house of Vimioso supplied the winding-sheet, and Camoens was buried with other victims of the plague in a common grave in the cemetery of Santa Anna. Years later D. Gonçalo Coutinho erected in the church of that invocation an in memoriam slab of marble with an inscription, and subsequently epitaphs were added by other admirers, but the earthquake of 1755 damaged the building, and all traces of these last acts of homage 119to genius have disappeared. The third centenary of the poet’s death was made the occasion of a national apotheosis, and on the 8th of June 1880 some remains, piously believed to be his, were borne with those of Vasco da Gama to the national pantheon, the Jeronymos at Belem.
The masterpiece of Camoens, the Lusiads, is the epos of discovery. It is written in hendecasyllabic ottava rima, and is divided into ten cantos containing in all 1102 stanzas. Its argument is briefly as follows. After an exordium proposing the subject, invoking the Tagus muses and addressing King Sebastian, Vasco da Gama’s ships are shown sailing up the East African coast on their way to India. At a council of the gods the fate of the fleet is discussed, and Bacchus promises to thwart the voyage, while Venus and Mars favour the navigators. They arrive at Mozambique, where the governor endeavours to destroy them by stratagem, and, this failing, Bacchus tries other plots against them at Quiloa and Mombasa which are foiled by Venus. In answer to her appeal, Jupiter foretells the glorious feats of the Portuguese in the East, and sends Mercury to direct the voyagers to Melinde, where they are hospitably received and get a pilot to guide them to India. The local ruler visits the fleet and asks Gama about his country and its history, and in response the latter gives an account of the origin of the kingdom of Portugal, its kings and principal achievements, ending with the incidents of the voyage out. This recital occupies cantos 3, 4 and 5, and includes some of the most admired and most powerful episodes in the poem, e.g. those of Ignez de Castro, King Manoel’s dream of the rivers Ganges and Indus, the speech of the old man of Belem and the apparition of Adamastor off the Cape of Good Hope. Canto 6 describes the crossing of the Indian Ocean from Melinde to Calicut and a fresh hostile attempt on the part of Bacchus. He descends to Neptune’s palace, and at a council of the sea-gods it is resolved to order Aeolus to loose the winds against the Portuguese, but the tempest is quelled by Venus and her nymphs in answer to Gama’s prayer, and the morning light reveals the Ghats of India. Just before the storm, occurs the night scene in which Velloso entertains his shipmates with the story of the Twelve of England, another of the famous episodes. Canto 7 is taken up with the arrival at Calicut, a description of the country and the details of Gama’s reception by the raja. The governor of the city visits the fleet and inquires about the pictures on their banners, whereupon Paulo da Gama, Vasco’s brother, tells him of the deeds of the early Portuguese kings. Meanwhile Bacchus, not to be baulked, appears to a priest in the guise of Mahomet, and stirs up the Moslems against the Christian adventurers, with the result that the raja charges Gama with being a leader of convicts and pirates. To this the captain makes a spirited reply and gets his despatch, but he has new snares to avoid and further difficulties to overcome before he is finally able to set sail on the return voyage. Pitying their toils, Venus determines to give the voyagers repose and pleasure on their way home, and directs their course to an enchanted island, which is described in canto 9, in the longest and perhaps the most beautiful episode in the poem. On landing they are received by the goddess and her nymphs, and general joy ensues, heightened by banquets and amorous play. In a prophetic song, the siren tells of the exploits of the Portuguese viceroys, governors and captains in India until the time of D John de Castro, after which Tethys ascends a mountain with Gama, shows him the spheres after the system of Ptolemy and the globe of Asia and Africa, and describes the Indian life of St Thomas the apostle. Finally the navigators quit the island and reach Lisbon, and an epilogue contains a patriotic exhortation to King Sebastian and visions of glory, which ended so disastrously at the battle of Alcacer.
Though the influence of Camoens on Portuguese has been exaggerated, it was very considerable, and he so far fixed the written language that at the present day it is commonly and not inaccurately called “the language of Camoens.” The Lusiads is the most successful modern epic cast in the ancient mould, and it has done much to preserve the corporate life of the Portuguese people and to keep alive the spirit of nationality in times of adversity like the “Spanish Captivity” and the Napoleonic invasion. Even now it forms a powerful bond between the mother-country and her potentially mighty daughter-nation across the Atlantic, the United States of Brazil. The men of the Renaissance saw nothing incongruous in that mixture of paganism and Christianity which is found in the Lusiads as in Ariosto, though some modern critics, like Voltaire, consider it a grave artistic defect in the poem. The fact that the Lusiads is written in a little-known language, and its intensely national and almost exclusively historical character, undoubtedly militate against a right estimate of its value, now that Portugal, once a world power, has long ceased to hold the East in fee or to guide the destinies of Europe. But though political changes may and do react on literary appreciations, the Lusiads remains none the less a great poem, breathing the purest religious fervour, love of country and spirit of chivalry, with splendid imaginative and descriptive passages full of the truest and deepest poetry. The structure is Virgilian, but the whole conception is the author’s own, while the style is natural and noble, the diction nearly always correct and elegant, and the verse, as a rule, sonorous and full of harmony.
In addition to his epic, Camoens wrote sonnets, canzons, odes, sextines, eclogues, elegies, octaves, roundels, letters and comedies. The roundels include cartas, motes, voltas, cantigas, trovas, pastorals and endechas. In the opinion of many competent judges Camoens only attains his true stature in his lyrics; and a score of his sonnets, two or three of the canzons, eclogues and elegies, and the Babylonian roundels will bear comparison with any composition of the same kind that other literatures can show. Referring to the Lusiads, A. von Humboldt calls Camoens a “great maritime painter,” but in his best lyrics he is a thinker as well as a poet, and when free from the trammels of the epic and inherited respect for classical traditions, he reveals a personality so virile and deep, a philosophy so broad and human, a vision so wide, and a form and style so nearly perfect, as not only to make him the foremost of Peninsular bards but to entitle him to a place in that small company of universal poets of the first rank.
The oldest and most authentic portrait of Camoens appeared in 1624 with his life, by Manoel Severim de Faria. It is a kitcat and shows the poet in armour wearing a laurel crown; his right hand holds a pen, his left rests on a copy of the Lusiads, while a shield above shows the family arms, a dragon rising from between rocks. The likeness exhibits a Gothic or northern type, and the tradition of his red beard and blue eyes confirms it. Except for an ode, sonnet and elegy, all Camoens’s lyrics were published posthumously.
Authorities.—The most modern and most critical biographies are those of Dr Theophilo Braga, Camões, epoca e Vide (Oporto, 1907), and of Dr Wilhelm Storck, Luis de Camões Leben (Paderborn, 1890), while the most satisfactory edition of the complete works is due to the Visconde de Juromenha (6 vols., Lisbon, 1860-1869), though it contains some spurious matter. While rejecting without good reason many of the traditions accepted by Juromenha in his life of the poet, Storck embroiders on his own account, and Braga must be preferred to him. Two volumes of Innocencio da Silva’s Diccionario Bibliographico Portuguez (14 and 15) are entirely devoted to Camoens and Camoniana, the second of them dealing fully with the tercentenary celebrations. Among modern Portuguese studies of the national epic the most important are perhaps Camões e a Renascença em Portugal, by Oliveira Martins, and Camões e o Sentimento Nacional, by Dr T. Braga (Oporto, 1891). The latter volume contains useful information on the various editions of Camoens, with an account of the texts and remarks on his plagiarists. Very few poets have been so often translated, and a list and estimate of the English translations of the Lusiads from the time of Sir Richard Fanshawe (1655) downwards, will be found in Sir Richard Burton’s Camoens: His Life and His Lusiads, which, notwithstanding some errors, is a most informing book, and the result of a curious similarity of temperament and experience between master and disciple. Burton translated the Lusiads (2 vols., London, 1880) and theLyricks (sonnets, canzons, odes and sextines; 2 vols., London, 1884), and left a version of all the minor works in MS. The accurate and readable version of the epic by Mr J.J. Aubertin, with the Portuguese text opposite, has gone through two editions (2nd ed., 2 vols., London, 1884), and there is a version of seventy of the sonnets, accompanied by the Portuguese text, by the same author (London, 1881).
Luis Vaz De Camoens: Poems
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