Alto dos Moinhos, Lisbon, Portugal
Free translation: "Freeing themselves from the death law"
Luís Vaz de Camões (Portuguese pronunciation: [luˈiʃ vaʃ dɨ kaˈmõȷ̃ʃ]; sometimes rendered in English as Camoens; c. 1524 – June 10, 1580) is considered Portugal’s, and the Portuguese language’s greatest poet. His mastery of verse has been compared to that of Shakespeare, Vondel, Homer, Virgil, and Dante. He wrote a considerable amount of lyrical poetry (in Portuguese and in Spanish) and drama but is best remembered for his epic work Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads). His recollection of poetry The Parnasum of Luís de Camões was lost in his lifetime.
Many details concerning the life of Camões remain unknown, but he is thought to have been born around 1524. Luís Vaz de Camões, the only son and child of Simão Vaz de Camões and wife Ana de Sá de Macedo. His birthplace is unknown. Lisbon, Coimbra or Alenquer are frequently presented as his birthplace, although the latter is based on what may be a wrong interpretation of one of his poems.
Camões belongs to a family originating from the northern Portuguese region of Chaves near Galicia. At an early age, Simão Vaz left his son and wife to discover personal riches in India, only to die in Goa in the following years. His mother later re-married.
Monument to Luís de Camões, Lisbon
Camões lived a semi-privileged life and was educated by Dominicans and Jesuits. For a period, due to his familial relations he attended the University of Coimbra, although records do not show him registered (he participated in courses in the Humanities). His uncle, Bento de Camões, is credited with this education, owing to his position as Prior at the Monastery of Santa Cruz and Chancellor at the University of Coimbra. He frequently had access to exclusive literature, including classical Greek, Roman and Latin works, read Latin, Italian and wrote in Spanish.
Camões, as his love poetry can attest, was a romantic and idealist. It was rumored that he fell in love with Catherine of Ataíde, lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and also the Princess Maria, sister of John III of Portugal. It is also likely that an indiscreet allusion to the king in his play El-Rei Seleuco, as well as these other incidents may have played a part in his exile from Lisbon in 1548. He traveled to the Ribatejo where he stayed in the company of friends who sheltered and fed him. He stayed in the province for about six months.
He enlisted in the overseas militia, and traveled to Ceuta in the fall of 1549. During a battle with the Moors, he lost the sight in his right eye. He eventually returned to Lisbon in 1551, a changed man, living a bohemian lifestyle. In 1552, during the religious festival of Corpus Christi, in the Largo do Rossio, he injured Gonçalo Borges, a member of the Royal Stables. Camões was imprisoned. His mother pleaded for his release, visiting royal ministers and the Borges family for a pardon. Released, Camões was ordered to pay 4,000 réis and serve three-years in the militia in the Orient.
He departed in 1553 for Goa on board the São Bento, commanded by Fernão Alves Cabral. The ship arrived six months later. In Goa, Camões was imprisoned for debt. He found Goa "a step-mother to all honest men" but he studied local customs and mastered the local geography and history. On his first expedition, he joined a battle along the Malabar Coast. The battle was followed by skirmishes along the trading routes between Egypt and India. The fleet eventually returned to Goa by November 1554. During his time ashore, he continued his writing publicly, as well as writing correspondence for the uneducated men of the fleet.
At the end of his obligatory service, he was given the position of chief warrant officer in Macau. He was charged with managing the properties of missing and deceased soldiers in the Orient. During this time he worked on his epic poem Os Lusíadas ("The Lusiads") in a grotto. He was later accused of misappropriations and traveled to Goa to respond to the accusations of the tribunal. During his return journey, near the Mekong River along the Cambodian coast, he was shipwrecked, saving his manuscript but losing his Chinese lover. His shipwreck survival in the Mekong Delta was enhanced by the legendary detail that he succeeded in swimming ashore while holding aloft the manuscript of his still-unfinished epic.
In 1570 Camões finally made it back to Lisbon, where two years later he published Os Lusíadas. In recompense for his poem or perhaps for services in the Far East, he was granted a small royal pension by the young and ill-fated King Sebastian (ruled 1557–1578).
In 1578 he heard of the appalling defeat of the Battle of Alcazarquivir, where King Sebastian was killed and the Portuguese army destroyed. The Spanish troops were approaching Lisbon when Camões wrote to the Captain General of Lamego: "All will see that so dear to me was my country that I was content to die not only in it but with it". Camões died in Lisbon in 1580, at the age of 56. The day of his death, 10 June, is Portugal’s national day. He is buried near Vasco Da Gama in the Hieronymite Monastery in the Belém district of Lisbon.
Works by Camões
The Parnasum of Luís Vaz (lost)
Auto dos Anfitriões
Auto El-rei Seleuco
Auto do Filodemo
The Lusiadas of Luiz de Camões. Leonard Bacon. 1966.
Luis de Camões: Epic and Lyric. Keith Bosley. Carcanet, 1990.
The Lusiads. Trans. Landeg White. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. ISBN 0192801511.
Luis de Camoes, Selected Sonnets: A Bilingual Edition. Ed. and trans. William Baer. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2005. ISBN 9780226092669. (Paperback publ. 2008, ISBN 9780226092867)
The Collected Lyric Poems of Luís de Camões Trans. Landeg White. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2008. ISBN
Biography and textual study in English
Life of Camões. John Adamson. Longman, 1820.
Camoens: His Life and his Lusiads: A Commentary. Richard Francis Burton. 2 vols. London: Quaritch, 1881.
The Place of Camoens in Literature. Joaquim Nabuco. Washington, D.C. [?], 1908.
Luis de Camões. Aubrey F.G. Bell. London: 1923.
Camoens, Central Figure of Portuguese Literature. Isaac Goldberg. Girard: Haldeman-Julius, 1924.
From Virgil to Milton. Cecil M. Bowra. 1945.
Camoens and the Epic of the Lusiads. Henry Hersch Hart. 1962.
The Presence of Camões: Influences on the Literature of England, America & Southern Africa. George Monteiro. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1996. ISBN 0813119529.
Ordering Empire: The Poetry of Camões, Pringle and Campbell. Nicholas Meihuizen. Bern: Peter Lang, 2007. ISBN 9783039110230.
Biography and textual study in Spanish
Camoens y Cervantes / Orico, Osvaldo., 1948
Camoens / Filgueira Valverde, Jose., 1958
Homenaje a Camoens: Estudios y Ensayos., 1980
Cuatro Lecciones Sobre Camoens / Alonso Zamora Vicente., 1981
Camões is the subject of the first romantic painting from a Portuguese painter, A Morte de Camões (1825), by Domingos Sequeira, now lost.
He is one of the characters in Donizetti’s grand opera Dom Sébastien, Rei de Portugal
Camões figures prominently in the book Het verboden rijk (The Forbidden Empire) by the Dutch writer J. Slauerhoff, who himself made several voyages to the Far East as a ship’s doctor.
Today, a museum dedicated to Camões can be found in Macau, the Museu Luís de Camões.
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