CAMOES, Luis Vaz de

(c. 1524/25-1580)
Luís Vaz de Camoes, nicknamed the "Portuguese Virgil," was the greatest lyric poet of Portugal, and indeed of sixteenth-century Europe, and the author of the epic national poem Os Lusiadas (The Lusiads or, literally, The Portu­guese, 1572). This work commemorated the nation and the navigator Vasco da Gama's discovery of the sea route to India via the Cape of Storms or Good Hope. Camoes's writings, both epic and lyric, had a lasting impact on Portu­guese, Brazilian, English, southern African, and European literature.
Despite conflicting and unreliable biographical sources, it is known that Ca­moes was born in Lisbon to an impoverished minor aristocratic family. He acquired a comprehensive classical and contemporary knowledge through his formal training at the College of All Saints in Coimbra, gaining the bachelor's degree in 1542, and through his own experiences in North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. However, offending the court through an ill-managed love affair with Catharina de Ataíde, daughter of the royal chamberlain, he was exiled in 1546. In 1547 he went to Ceuta, returning briefly to Portugal before leaving with Cabral in 1553 for India. He spent the next seventeen years in the Far East, Goa on the Indian coast, the Mekong Delta, and Mozambique. He returned to Portugal in 1570, published Os Lusiadas in 1572, the first vernacular epic of modern times, and received in consequence almost universal acclaim and a royal pension. The epic was well received not only by the Portuguese court and in Spain (Spanish translation in 1580), but also across Europe, in particular by the Italian Torquato Tasso* and later by Humboldt.
Camoes's poetic works include lyric poems, drama, and epic. The title of Camoes's Os Lusiadas was taken from the Roman name for Portugal, Lusitania. The epic poem, modeled on the Aeneid, relates and praises the great deeds of the Portuguese, especially their victories over the enemies of Christianity. This national epic is infused with a crusading spirit, describing the courage and ex­ploits of earlier Portuguese explorers. The poem itself, in ten cantos of 1,102 stanzas, begins with a dedication to King Sebastian before proceeding to de­scribe the voyages of Vasco da Gama. The epic describes this voyage on a literal and on a mythological level as a conflict among the Olympian deities. In this manner Camoes attained a remarkable synthesis of indigenous, national, and classical themes, extolling the adventurous life and, inter alia, exhorting divided European Christian monarchs to unite against the threatening advances of Islam in southern Europe.
While Camoes's dramatic works have remained relatively unknown outside of the Iberian Peninsula, his sonnets, odes, and elegies are highly regarded. His epic is considered the greatest synthesis of classical and Christian themes ever written and is the source of his claim to be the greatest sixteenth-century poet.
Bibliography
A.F.G. Bell, Luis de Camoes, 1923.
L. V. de Camoes, The Lusiads, trans. L. White, 1997.
A. B. Giamatti, The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic, 1966.
Iain S. Maclean

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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