Camões, Luíz Vaz de ca. 1524–1580 Portuguese Poet

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Camões, Luíz Vaz de
ca. 1524–1580
Portuguese poet

The Portuguese poet Luíz Vaz de Camões is best known as the author of The Lusiads, an epic* glorifying his homeland. Born in Lisbon to a family of lower nobility, Camões served as a soldier in North Africa, where he lost an eye. After returning to Portugal in 1549, he became involved in a street fight, for which he was jailed and later deported. He spent the next 17 years as a soldier in India and China.

During his exile, Camões wrote plays, satires*, and his masterpiece, The Lusiads. Shipwrecked off the coast of Cambodia in 1559, he barely managed to save the manuscript of his epic. After many struggles, he finally returned to Lisbon in 1570. The boy-king Sebastião was on the throne at that time, and Camões dedicated The Lusiads to him. Camões received a modest pension for the work, but not enough to relieve his poverty.

In 1578, Sebastião died in battle. Camões did not live to see Philip II of Spain invade Portugal, but he knew that his country was in danger. On his deathbed he wrote: "All will see that so dear to me was my country that I was content to die not only in it but with it."

In The Lusiads, Camões not only relates the history of Portugal, but also links his country to the greatness of ancient Rome. The epic centers on Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama's historic journey to India (1497–1498). Around this point, Camões weaves past and present together to include both his country's mythical origins and events after Gama's journey. He likens Portugal to ancient Rome by modeling his work on the Roman poet Virgil's famous epic, the Aeneid. Both epics include the theme of a divine plan behind the events of human history. Camões uses his country's history to present the idea that human beings are flawed, capable of both good and evil.

The first English translation of Camões's work was an English diplomat's version of The Lusiads in 1655. Since then, others have produced new English translations of The Lusiads and the rest of Camões's works. Camões's poetry was popular among such American writers of the 1800s as Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Herman Melville.

(See alsoPortuguese Language and Literature. )

* epic

long poem about the adventures of a hero

* satire

literary or artistic work ridiculing human wickedness and foolishness

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Camões, Luíz Vaz de ca. 1524–1580 Portuguese Poet

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