Camões probably wrote the play Anfitriões (published in 1587) when he was a student at Coimbra. In 1546, performance of classical texts had become obligatory in the university. Anfitriões, inspired by Plautus's Amphitryon, is filled with comical situations. The text, which reveals a youthful sensuality, is bilingual and presents a constant play between seeming and being. The action focuses on the tricks and cunning of Jupiter and Mercury (the son of Jupiter and Maia), god of eloquence, commerce, and thieves, as they take on the human appearances of Anfitrião and Sósia. The purpose of the trickery is so that Jupiter can court Alcmena, Anfitrião's faithful wife. (Hercules is the son of Jupiter and Alcmena.) Anfitrião resembles a Portuguese naval captain; his servant is humorous but refined and speaks Spanish. Mercury speaks Portuguese, but he begins to speak Spanish when he takes the role of the false Sósia. Jupiter is presented as he appears in classical literature, while Mercury assumes characteristics of the Portuguese. Later Jupiter also becomes more Portuguese when he uses Petrarchan tenderness to communicate with Alcmena.
Camões went to Lisbon before 1550, probably in 1542. He probably participated in the soirees at the court, where he met members of the upper nobility, but he never abandoned his bohemian lifestyle. Although theater was a marginal activity in the totality of Camões's literary work, he had another play, El Rei-Seleuco (King Seleucus, published in 1645), staged while he was still in Lisbon. The work was performed in the home of Estácio da Fonseca, an official in the court of João III, and was probably part of a wedding celebration. The play was seen by some as a recrimination against King Manuel, who, in 1518 (three years before his death), had married Leonor of Austria, who was intended for João's son. The play, consisting of only one act, is based on an anecdote from Plutarch and other classical historians. Prince Antiochus, son of King Seleucus of Syria, falls in love with his stepmother. His father is placed in the position of having to chose between losing his son or his wife. He gives his wife to his son with a part of the kingdom. Although El Rei-Seleuco is written in the style of Portuguese dramatist Gil Vicente, Camões focuses more on a psychological analysis of the characters and emphasizes Antiochus's conscience while criticizing the sentimental aspects of the story. Camões includes a prologue and an epilogue in prose, with references to the practice of performing autos (a type of morality play) in the patios of private homes in Lisbon, with the last-minute problems of uninvited guests.
Camões participated in a military expedition to North Africa from 1549 to 1551, during which he was wounded in the right eye in combat. Back in Lisbon, he was arrested in 1552 and imprisoned for having stabbed an officer named Gonçalves Borges, who was in charge of the king's royal cavalry, in the neck during the procession of Corpus Christi on 16 June. Camões was jailed in Tronco, where he remained until March 1553. The document of pardon for this crime refers to Camões as a cavaleiro fidalgo, a person of the lower nobility. This status is confirmed in a letter the author wrote to Francisca de Aragão, first lady to Queen Caterina, widow of João II.
Aragão obtained the pardon for Camões, who, after his release from jail, agreed to five years of military service in India. He set sail on the São Bento on 26 March 1553. The ship was under the command of Fernão de Álvares Cabral. There are mentions of Camões having served in various military campaigns in Asia, including one against the king of Chembé. While in the Portuguese-controlled state of Goa in India, the writer enjoyed the friendship and protection of the viceroy, Francisco Redonda, Count of Redondo. This friendship did not, however, allow him any special rights or privileges. In Goa he wrote the play Filodemo (published in 1587) as entertainment for the governor of India, Francisco Barreto, when he was inaugurated in 1555. The performance was intended to celebrate this event and to glorify the Portuguese people. The inspiration for the play includes popular sources, the medieval novel, and lyric poetry. The entire play is perhaps a hidden reference to Camões's love for the Infanta Maria, daughter of King Manuel. Such a love would have been difficult since the two people involved were from different social classes. In the text the orphaned twins Filodemo and Florimena are separated. Filodemo falls in love with Dionísia, in whose home he is a servant. Florimena, who had become a shepherdess, falls in love with Venadoro, Dionísia's brother. At the end of the play there is the inevitable recognition of the identity of the twins, which the author uses to underscore the nobility of amorous feelings.
In Goa, Camões was sent to jail again for debts to a man named Miguel Roiz. After his release he went to Macau, where he served as the official charged with handling the affairs of the deceased and orphans. He had to give up this job, however, when he was arrested again (possibly as the result of a dispute with the captain of a trade ship, or possibly because he was in debt again) and returned to Goa. Scholars believe that Camões refers to this fact in Os Lusíadas in Canto X, verse 128, when he describes the world as "mundo injusto" (an unjust place). In 1568, with the help of Captain Pero Barreto Rolim, Camões went to Mozambique, where he lived in poverty. Among Camões's friends in Asia was historian Diogo de Couto, who recorded in his Década VIII da Ásia a visit with Camões in Mozambique. Couto found the poet desolate over the death of Dinamene, "china muy fermosa" (a very pretty Chinese woman) who traveled with him and had died in a shipwreck at the mouth of the Mekong River on the return from India. According to Couto, the famous sonnet "Alma minha gentil, que te partiste" (Gentle soul of mine, separate yourself) was dedicated to her. With the help of some friends, Camões was able to leave Mozambique and departed for Lisbon in November 1569. He arrived in Cascais on the ship Santa Clara in April 1570.
In Lisbon, Camões dedicated himself to the publication of his epic, Os Lusíadas. In September 1571 he obtained authorization to publish the work, which was printed in October 1571 and July 1572 by António Gonçalves. Two editions of the work appeared in 1572; the one with a cover depicting the head of a pelican with its beak turned to the reader's left is considered the authentic edition. The texts of the two editions present many variants, some of which are major.
Os Lusíadas, considered the "poema da raça" (poem of the race), is a vision and glorification of the Portuguese world and people of the fifteenth century. In that century Portugal had reached the height of its historical and cultural development. The word "lusíadas" of the title was taken from a 1531 letter written by antiquities scholar André de Resende and refers to the "lusos," the original inhabitants of present-day Portugal. Camões uses the word only in the title of the work. Throughout the poem he uses the synonyms lusitanos, portugueses, and filhos de Luso, words that are more easily adapted to the metrical scheme of the verses. The poem narrates the most glorious episodes of the history of Portugal, focusing on Vasco da Gama's trip to establish a maritime contract with the Indies. The hero is not da Gama but rather the Portuguese nation, of whom he is a representative. Camões states that he is going to sing the praises of "as armas e os barões assinalados" (coats of arms and illustrious barons).
The structure of Os Lusíadas consists of 10 cantos, 1,102 stanzas, and 8,816 verses. The stanzas are ottava rima, groupings of 8 ten-syllable verses, with the rhyme scheme abababcc. The verses are generally decassílabos heroícos--that is, the stress falls on the sixth and tenth syllables of each verse. The introduction (the first 18 stanzas) is subdivided into the Proposition (stanzas 1-3), in which the poet proposes to sing the praises of brave deeds of illustrious men; the Invocation (stanzas 4-5), in which he invokes Tágides, the muse of the Tagus River; and the Offering (stanzas 6-18), in which he dedicates the publication of the poem to King Sebastião. The narration runs from Canto I, stanza 19, through Canto X, stanza 144. Finally, Canto X, stanzas 145-146, provide the epilogue. The part of the poem that takes place between the trip and the conclusion is narrated by Jupiter, in the presence of Venus, and by Tethys on the Isle of Love.
The action of the poem is made up of a mixture of historical aspects of da Gama's trip to India and his return (1497-1499) and episodes based on classical mythology, including a battle between Venus, as the protector of the Portuguese people, and Bacchus. There are lyrical episodes that achieve emotional depth, such as those describing the tragic love affair of Inês de Castro and Pedro I, son of King Afonso IV, and the story of the Velho do Restelo, an old man who rants against the politics of expansion. There are also symbolic episodes, such as King Manuel I's dream, which deals with the expansion of the Portuguese nation; the events that involve a giant, Adamastor, who symbolizes the force of nature; the episode of the Twelve Dames of England, an example of medieval Portuguese chivalry; and the Ilha dos Amores (Isle of Love), in which the Portuguese concept of honor stands out. In certain episodes, such as the storms in Canto VI, the poet focuses on nature. As António José Saraiva noted in his 1963 study, the traditional concepts of time, space, history, and death are abolished in the narrative.
Os Lusíadas incorporates the spirit of the Renaissance and the classical epics of Homer and Virgil, although the trip to the Indies lacks the mythic and heroic air. Da Gama is simply a spokesperson, a symbol of the Portuguese people. The navigators, as a group, represent the role of the epic hero. There is the coexistence of the marvelous, that is, the intervention of pagan and Christian supernatural beings, in the spirit of Renaissance dualism. There is no coherence until the end of the text, and the epilogue is sad and melancholic, which is contrary to the traditional epic poem. Throughout the verses Camões creates a portrait of a visionary people caught up in the frenzy and glory of overseas expansion. The poet himself is a dramatic presence in the poem, transmitting his feelings and frustrations to the characters. His most inspired moments are in the depiction of de Castro and the prophetic threats of Adamastor.
Three elements combine in this work: the real, the mythical, and the miraculous. The real is made up of true events, including battles and storms, and the psychological states of the characters involved in the actions. These persons include Afonso Henriques and Nuno Álvares Pereira, who are active participants in the action; the prudent and reflective Egas Moniz and Martim de Freitas; and persons such as Maria, the daughter of Afonso IV, who participate only indirectly in the story. There are also characters who are not involved in the action, such as de Castro, but who reflect the poet's elevated sentiments. The mythical beings of the text include those who determine events, such as Jupiter, Neptune, and the members of the Council of Olympus; those who soften the many crude deeds of the Council, including the Nereids; those who praise the Portuguese people and those who act against them but who, once defeated, glorify them, including Bacchus and Adamastor; those who figure intimately in the lives of the heroes, such as Tethys and the nymphs on the Isle of Love; and messengers, such as Mercury. The miraculous is seen in episodes such as the appearance of Saint Elmo's fire and an encounter with a waterspout in Canto V.
The action of the poem, which begins in stanza 19, opens in medias res. While da Gama's ships are in the Indian Ocean, the gods meet on Mount Olympus to determine the sailors' fate. Bacchus opposes the Portuguese, but Jupiter, Venus, and Mars support them and rule in their favor. When the Portuguese arrive in Mozambique, da Gama goes ashore and barely escapes problems instigated with the Muslims by Bacchus. In Canto II the Portuguese arrive in Mombasa, where Bacchus again attempts to destroy them. Venus and the Nereids, however, save them. Jupiter foresees the great discoveries of the Portuguese in the East, and he sends Mercury ahead to ensure that they are well received in Melindi. Canto III, after an invocation to the epic muse, focuses on Portugal, its geography and history. The poet relates the emergence of Portugal as a country under the rule of Henriques, the reconquest of the peninsula from the Arabs, the stories of other kings and their conquests, the tale of de Castro's execution, and an account of how Fernando I jeopardized the country's independence. In Canto IV the poet tells of the death of Fernando, Afonso V's battle with Castile, and his conquests in North Africa, including Ceuta. King Manuel I sends da Gama to search for India after a dream of the River Ganges and the River Indus. Da Gama departs, and in Canto V he reaches Melindi, where the king visits da Gama's ship to hear of the trip up to this point. There are several incidents involving natural phenomena and predictions of disaster by the giant Adamastor. Many crew members fall ill along the way.
Canto VI relates the voyage across the Indian Ocean. Bacchus again attempts to create problems for the Portuguese navigators when he speaks against them at Neptune's underwater court. Aeolus releases violent winds against the fleet, but Venus and her nymphs hear da Gama's prayers and stop the storm. At daybreak the sailors sight India. In Canto VII, Monçaide, a Muslim from Berberia and a friend of the Portuguese who speaks Spanish, comes to da Gama's ships and tells him about the Malabar coast. After da Gama lands, he goes to Samorin to establish a treaty of friendship. Da Gama's fleet flies banners that depict various episodes of Portuguese history, and the poet invokes the help of the nymphs of the Mondego and Tagus Rivers as he describes them. Canto VIII continues with the descriptions of the banners, and the story becomes complicated as Bacchus conspires with the Muslims to destroy the Portuguese. Da Gama is detained, but he secures his freedom for a portion of the merchandise that he was allowed to carry ashore. In Canto IX da Gama takes some Muslims hostage and exchanges them for two of his agents who were held on land. He then begins the journey home. Venus leads the fleet to her Isle of Love, where Tethys and the Nereids fall in love with the sailors. After a banquet at which one of the nymphs prophesies future exploits by the Portuguese in Canto X, the fleet departs for Portugal. The canto is filled with descriptions of Africa and Asia.
Each canto includes the poet's thoughts and musings on different topics, including heroism, materialism, the uncertainty of human existence, the power of love, and the evil of ambition. Narrative is accompanied by reflection as Camões glorifies the people and history of Portugal and creates a national epic for the country.
In addition to Os Lusíadas, Camões wrote an impressive body of lyric poetry and autos that were circulated in manuscript form during his lifetime. There has been a long and often harsh debate among specialists about the chronology and authenticity of the poems. Many editions have been released, focusing on different theories to prove their authenticity. The Escola Camoniana Brasileira, a group of Brazilian scholars under the direction of Leodegário A. de Azevedo Filho, has prepared several volumes using philological methods of comparison of texts to prove authorship and establish dates of composition.
Camões worked in several Renaissance lyric forms, including the sonnet, ottava rima, tercet, sextet, eclogue, ode, elegy, and song. He also wrote in the traditional forms of the redondilha maior, redondilha menor, and cantigas. He wrote both in Portuguese and in Spanish (all the writers of that time were bilingual). Camões's lyric poetry is characterized by a spontaneity that lends it a sense of interior discourse. At times, the poet assumes the artificiality of the conceptista poets and reveals an erudite knowledge of classical writers from the Greco-Roman tradition. He varies the rhythms of his verses to accommodate emotions, and his redondilhas reveal a sense of the playful and humorous as they capture the contradictions and ambiguities of the epoch. His sonnets are marked by the baroque cultismo (exaggerated refinement of literary form) and conceptismo (an artful game of ideas and concepts); his eclogues discourse on the contradictions of human existence; and his odes vacillate between the influence of Horace and a highly personal lyricism. Camões's lyric poetry resembles that of Dante and Petrarch in its resistence to a supposed destiny. His sense of individualism battles hostile reactions to nonconformism.
Camões's poetry resembles a philosophical dialogue. The most frequent theme from an ideological standpoint is the contradiction between what he has been taught and what he experiences in terms of philosophy and religion. His Platonic background is reflected in his concept of love, inherited from medieval Provençal poetry. Woman appears in his verses as an idealized, angelic figure who cleanses and purges the soul of her lover. Beatriz guided Dante through Paradise; Laura, after her death, served as Petrarch's inspiration; and Camões inherited this concept of the woman and of love and shaped it in his own personal manner. The beloved appears illuminated by a supernatural light that transforms her human features into divine ones: her hair is always bright and golden; her resplendent look has the power to calm nature; and her presence makes the flowers bloom. Camões's verses, however, also reveal a contrast between carnal desire and idealized longing. The poet seems to pose the question: If love is a "feito da alma" (deed of the soul), how does one explain that the lover desires the beloved in a carnal manner? Corporeal beauty is a reflection of pure beauty, for which carnal desire must be sacrificed. In his reflections on the dichotomy between carnal and pure love, Camões concludes by condemning love that is not divine. Eroticism is intermingled with mysticism, and in this way, spiritual love overcomes carnal desire.
Another frequent theme throughout his verses is the contradiction between individual aspirations to happiness and the impossibility of concretely attaining this happiness. Change brings hope to the human being, but happiness is always something of the past, only to be remembered in the present. Camões also focuses on the contrast between worthiness and individual destiny. He sees evil and mediocre people as content in this life, while the good (and he included himself in that category) are pursued by misfortune. Thus, the world is incomprehensible. This theme is apparent in the poem "Ao desconcerto do mundo" (This Disconcerting World), written before the poet's trip to India. Individual destiny makes the poet contemplate the desconcerto of life, and he finds that the key to happiness is in God, whose designs are unknown.
Camões's lyric work consists of a psychological analysis of feelings, at times abstract and subtle, an anguished examination of conscience, and a metaphysical and religious theory of the sentimental experiences of the poet. Several themes stand out in his works, including love, saudade (a mixture of yearning and nostalgia), nature, and religion. There is a constant conflict between the divine and the mundane, from which emerges a Petrarchan melancholy. This expression of the inner being is the fusion of the dominant spiritual forces of the epoch: Petrarchism and Platonism, which refine the medieval troubadour concept of love; Christian doctrine that stressed restraint of carnal desire; and vigilance of the state and the church in their moralizing role. Poetry assumes a form that tends toward impassionate thought.
The poet goes from one love to the other, which purifies his soul. Love is always the same ideal exaltation and sublimation, and it is never impaired as the poet changes places and customs. On the contrary, love is strengthened and unified through various experiences. Love becomes something permanent, beyond ephemeral infatuations and desire: "O desejo que não quer o desejado, só porque se quer perpétuo" (Desire that the desired one does not want because it wants that which is eternal). This permanent love goes beyond momentary desire that is translated into acts. This love is sublimated in the beloved to the point of seeing in her a divine beauty.
The beloved, on an intellectual level that is divine, is a demigoddess and is totally united with her lover. Her soul is transformed into the object of love for which the poet searches. He loses his sense of self but retains a lucid consciousness of the reason that explains such a loss. Throughout Camões's works the notion of the ascent from specific to general beauty, and from personal experience to spiritual concept, is implicit. The poet surpasses the physical man, tied to the concrete reality of amorous experiences, and arrives at a state in which he is capable of theorizing metaphysically on his emotional experiences. The poet never forgets that he is a man made of flesh, blood, and feelings, as seen in the poem "Mande-me Amor" (Send Me Love, included in Rhythmas, 1595). At times, however, his inner life dominates external reality, and he becomes involved in his thoughts.
Camões associates nature with love in his lyric works. Nature frames and provides a background for love, or it serves as a projection of the "I" of the poet in his moments of emotional outpouring. The poet also contemplates nature in itself, independent of its relationship to his emotional states or to his artistic devices. Nature provokes the poet's senses through its multiple aspects, but, above all, it nurtures the philosophical intuition of its essence and meaning. As in the medieval cancioneiros, Camões appeals to the waves of the sea to be messengers, and to the birds, the fields, and the sun to attest to the sincerity of his suffering. Nature itself, however, like love, is filled with paradoxical games that reflect the contradictory state of the tormented soul.
Camões's texts reveal a faithful rendering of Catholic thought and doctrine. His lyric poetry expresses spiritual tones as his Christian faith becomes a special aspect of his verses. His Catholic spirit is fed by convictions imposed by dogmatism and tradition, particularly the intervention of Providence in the lives of individuals and nations. The poet censures vain people who blame their suffering and misfortune on bad luck.
Specific geographical settings in Camões's poems include Coimbra, with its landscape and its intellectual life; Lisbon, with its cosmopolitan population and social refinement; Ceuta, with its military garrison; and the Orient. These places were the bright spots of the empire and figured into the drama of its decline.
Camões's style is marked by certain recurring traits that were a part of the artistic conventions of his times, including the use of mythological characters and situations. From the classics he inherited the use of periphrasis, but above all, a sense of equilibrium and harmony of expression. His language is characterized by the abundant use of metaphor and hyperbole and a rhythm that resembles that of classical music, with short and even intervals. The sense of unity demanded by the classics, however, does not create a sense of monotony as Camões varies the rhythms of his verses to accommodate the feelings and emotions being captured through his language.
After the publication of Os Lusíadas in 1572, King Sebastião awarded Camões an annual stipend of 15,000 mil réis. The money, which arrived on an irregular basis, hardly covered the writer's living expenses. Camões's production after 1572 consists of a few poems he composed as introductions to books. He wrote some sonnets and tercets dedicated to Leonis Pereira (the son of D. Manuel Pereira, Conde de Feira, who defended Malaca in 1568), for Pêro de Magalhães de Gândavo's Historia da prouincia de sãcta Cruz a que vulgarme[n]te chamamos Brasil (History of the Province of Santa Cruz) in 1576. The work is the first ethnogeographic description of Brazil.
Camões's death on 10 June 1580 is documented in the archives of Filipe II. His gravestone is inscribed: "Aqui jaz Luís de Camões, príncipe dos poetas do seu tempo. Viveu pobre e miseravelmente e assim morreu" (Here lies Luís de Camões, prince of the poets of his time. He lived in poverty and died in it). Since so little factual information on the author's life exists, many myths and stories have been created around the great poet, especially based on the subjective and debatable interpretations of the poems attributed to him. There is, however, little documentary evidence to substantiate them. Other than a few verifiable facts, most of what has been written about his life has been speculation.
Camões is considered the most important poet of the Portuguese language. He captured in his epic poem the heroism and daring of the Portuguese during a period of expansion and discovery of the world. In the twentieth century, poet Fernando Pessoa attempted to create a new Portuguese epic in his work Mensagem (Message, 1934), and novelist José Saramago represented the heroic Portuguese past in his historiographical novel Memorial do convento (Memoir of the Convent, 1982). Neither of these two works, however, captures the glory of that period of Portuguese history in the same epic spirit as the work of Camões.
From: Azevedo Filho, Leodegário A. de. "Luis De Camoes." Portuguese Writers, edited by Monica Rector and Fred M. Clark, Gale, 2004. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 287.