Renaissance and Reformation Luís de Camões
by
Hélio J.S. Alves
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0313

Introduction

Luís de Camões (b. 1524?–d. 1579/1580) is the first great Western poet to have lived in Africa and Asia and is now widely considered to be a preeminent literary symbol of the beginnings of the globalized world. Often called the “Prince of Poets” in Renaissance Iberia, he wrote almost exclusively in Portuguese. Even though Portuguese was a language of intercontinental trade, politics, and Christian missionarism from the 15th century, within Europe it never had a comparable impact. The first English translator of Camões, Richard Fanshawe, had to explain in 1655 that the poet shone as one of the greatest in the world, despite writing in “so uncourted a language as that of Portugal.” Ignorance about Portuguese language and culture in European circles overwhelmed curiosity and appreciation, except during times of greater colonial investment (most recently, anticolonial), given Portuguese people’s pioneering knowledge of other continents. This also explains the comparative lack of academic bibliography about Camões in English and in other widely spoken European languages. The poet became best known internationally for Os Lusíadas, an oft-translated epic understood to be about sea travel, exploration, trade, and empire. His vast and varied body of lyric poetry has received less attention outside of Portugal and Brazil, although its impact was felt on past occasions (Wordsworth’s “Scorn not the Sonnet” and the Brownings are well-known cases). The plays were never given the critical attention of the rest of his work and the small output of prose letters even less so. In all four genres, however, it has become increasingly evident that Camões should not be treated in isolation from the rest of Portuguese literary and intellectual culture, as he used to be. Gil Vicente, Bernardim Ribeiro, Sá de Miranda, João de Barros, Francisco de Holanda, Jorge Ferreira de Vasconcelos, Garcia da Orta, Fernão Mendes Pinto, Aquiles Estaço, Heitor Pinto, António Ferreira, Diogo Bernardes, and Jerónimo Corte-Real are some of the major Portuguese 16th-century authors who share, in one way or another, the same ground with Camões. A growing interest in the poet’s inclusion in the wider world of Iberian and European Renaissance literature has also been felt of late. But this has not prevented recent writing from focusing equally on the poet’s peculiar genius.

General Overviews

There are very few good studies that take into account Camões’s life and output comprehensively and knowledgeably. Saraiva 1959 is still the best general book on the poet and his work. Filgueira Valverde 1958 (from a Spaniard’s and Galician’s point of view) and Matos 1992 also have much to recommend them. Biographical work on Camões has fallen into scholarly disrepute, as the tendency to extract supposed facts from lyric poetry reached uncommon heights; Picchio 1981 is a sound warning. For attempts at producing an interpretation of the author’s writing as a whole, see Sena 1980, Macedo 1980, and Coelho 1983. For a master critic’s short essay with brief general comments on all genres as praticed by the poet, see Lopes 1995. The most authoritative work placing the poet generally within 16th-century thought and culture is Dias 1981.

  • Coelho, Jacinto do Prado. Camões e Pessoa, poetas da utopia. Mem Martins, Portugal: Europa-América, 1983.

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    The part of the book about Camões consists of a series of short texts on the poet, epic and lyric, with several useful interpretive insights.

  • Dias, J. S. da Silva. Camões no Portugal de Quinhentos. Lisbon, Portugal: Instituto de Cultura e Língua Portugues, 1981.

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    A short book summarizing, and applying to Camões, the author’s studies in Portuguese early modern cultural history, including religion, philosophy, political thought, and most branches of humanistic and scientific knowledge. It frequently contradicts, with scholarly weight, many of the commonplaces about Camões’s thinking coming from literary critics.

  • Filgueira Valverde, José. Camoens. Barcelona: Editorial Labor, 1958.

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    Spanish-language book, republished 1975, 1981 (in Portuguese translation), and 1993. Supports the idea of Camões as a poet belonging to the Spanish tradition. Beyond that, a well-informed and sometimes acute study.

  • Lopes, Óscar. “Camões, um pacto de leitura.” Oceanos 23 (July–September 1995): 8–20.

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    Brief overview of the main questions regarding Camões’s personality and work by a much-admired critic and literary historian.

  • Macedo, Hélder. Camões e a viagem iniciática. Lisbon, Portugal: Moraes, 1980.

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    Perhaps the most-cited of a range of essays by several authors that place love and erotic symbolism at the center of overall interpretations of Camões.

  • Matos, Maria Vitalina Leal de. Introdução à poesia de Luís de Camões. 3d ed. Lisbon, Portugal: Instituto de Cultura e Língua Portugues, 1992.

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    A fruitful introduction to the poet.

  • Picchio, Luciana Stegagno. “O canto molhado: contributo para o estudo das biografias camonianas.” Arquivos do Centro Cultural Português 16 (1981): 243–265.

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    This same study, which here appears in a special issue on Camões, exists in an Italian version as well (“Biografia e autobiografia: due studi in margine alle biografie camoniane,” Quaderni Portoghesi 7–8 [1981]). Provides warnings about obstacles faced by the poet’s biographers.

  • Saraiva, António José. Luís de Camões. Lisbon, Portugal: Europa-América, 1959.

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    A study in four chapters, plus an anthology. The same author wrote important later studies on Camões, but this remains his most comprehensive. It includes famous theses on the different styles employed by the poet, on the contradiction between his Petrarchist and erotic loves, on the superimposition of medieval and humanistic elements, and on the central role played by mythology in Os Lusíadas.

  • Sena, Jorge de. “A Poesia de Camões: Ensaio de revelação da dialéctica camoniana.” In Trinta anos de Camões. Vol. 1. By Jorge de Sena, 15–39. Lisbon, Portugal: Edições, 1980.

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    This influential essay posits an interpretation of the whole of Camões’s production as an internal organic dialectic.

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