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Gama, José Basilio da (1741–1795)

Gama, José Basilio da (1741–1795)

José Basilio da Gama (b. 1741; d. 31 July 1795), Brazilian poet. Born in Minas Gerais, Gama studied in Rio de Janeiro under the Jesuits and then in Rome after 1759, when the order was banished from Portuguese possessions. Later, while living in Portugal, he was arrested as a Jesuit sympathizer but escaped exile by gaining favor with the marquês of Pombal, the realm's chief minister. His most famous work, O Uruguai, was published in Lisbon in 1769.

A long poem in ten blank-verse cantos, O Uruguai is constructed around episodes from the War of the Seven Reductions (1752–1756), which the Portuguese and Spanish waged jointly against the Jesuits and their Tupi-guaraní Indian mission congregations in Uruguay. Sometimes regarded as an epic, it has also been considered a lyrical narrative and a poetic drama. The original version had been openly pro-Jesuit, but the published version criticizes the Jesuits scathingly, in consonance with Pombal's policies.

O Uruguai is considered the most important literary work of Brazil's colonial period. It presents sympathetically the inevitable demise of indigenous culture before the advance of white men. Its Indian heroes contributed to its popularity among the romantics, who also admired the freedom of its blank verse and who viewed its pictures of Indian life and the Brazilian landscape as a precursor of the autonomous national literature they sought to create.

See alsoBrazil: The Colonial Era (1500–1808); Literature: Brazil.


Sir Richard F. Burton published a translation of O Uruguai, the Uruguay, in 1878; a modern scholarly edition of the Burton translation, with introduction and notes by Frederick C. H. García and Edward F. Stanton, was published in 1972. David M. Driver, The Indian in Brazilian Literature (1942), pp. 22-33, contains a discussion of the poem.

Additional Bibliography

Brandão, Roberto de Oliveira. Poética e poesia no Brasil (Colônia). São Paulo: Editora UNESP, 2001.

Chaves, Vania Pinheiro. O Uruguai e a fundação da literatura brasileira. Campinas: Editora da Unicamp, 1997.

Teixeira, Ivan. Mecenato pombalino e poesia neoclássica: Basílio da Gama e a poética do encômio. São Paulo: FAPESP: Edusp, 1999.

                                 Norwood Andrews Jr.

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