to genius have disappeared. The third centenary of the poet’s death was made the occasion of a national apotheosis, and on the 8th of June 1880 some remains, piously believed to be his, were borne with those of Vasco da Gama to the national pantheon, the Jeronymos at Belem.
The masterpiece of Camoens, the Lusiads, is the epos of discovery. It is written in hendecasyllabic ottava rima, and is divided into ten cantos containing in all 1102 stanzas. Its argument is briefly as follows. After an exordium proposing the subject, invoking the Tagus muses and addressing King Sebastian, Vasco da Gama’s ships are shown sailing up the East African coast on their way to India. At a council of the gods the fate of the fleet is discussed, and Bacchus promises to thwart the voyage, while Venus and Mars favour the navigators. They arrive at Mozambique, where the governor endeavours to destroy them by stratagem, and, this failing, Bacchus tries other plots against them at Quiloa and Mombasa which are foiled by Venus. In answer to her appeal, Jupiter foretells the glorious feats of the Portuguese in the East, and sends Mercury to direct the voyagers to Melinde, where they are hospitably received and get a pilot to guide them to India. The local ruler visits the fleet and asks Gama about his country and its history, and in response the latter gives an account of the origin of the kingdom of Portugal, its kings and principal achievements, ending with the incidents of the voyage out. This recital occupies cantos 3, 4 and 5, and includes some of the most admired and most powerful episodes in the poem, e.g. those of Ignez de Castro, King Manoel’s dream of the rivers Ganges and Indus, the speech of the old man of Belem and the apparition of Adamastor off the Cape of Good Hope. Canto 6 describes the crossing of the Indian Ocean from Melinde to Calicut and a fresh hostile attempt on the part of Bacchus. He descends to Neptune’s palace, and at a council of the sea-gods it is resolved to order Aeolus to loose the winds against the Portuguese, but the tempest is quelled by Venus and her nymphs in answer to Gama’s prayer, and the morning light reveals the Ghats of India. Just before the storm, occurs the night scene in which Velloso entertains his shipmates with the story of the Twelve of England, another of the famous episodes. Canto 7 is taken up with the arrival at Calicut, a description of the country and the details of Gama’s reception by the raja. The governor of the city visits the fleet and inquires about the pictures on their banners, whereupon Paulo da Gama, Vasco’s brother, tells him of the deeds of the early Portuguese kings. Meanwhile Bacchus, not to be baulked, appears to a priest in the guise of Mahomet, and stirs up the Moslems against the Christian adventurers, with the result that the raja charges Gama with being a leader of convicts and pirates. To this the captain makes a spirited reply and gets his despatch, but he has new snares to avoid and further difficulties to overcome before he is finally able to set sail on the return voyage. Pitying their toils, Venus determines to give the voyagers repose and pleasure on their way home, and directs their course to an enchanted island, which is described in canto 9, in the longest and perhaps the most beautiful episode in the poem. On landing they are received by the goddess and her nymphs, and general joy ensues, heightened by banquets and amorous play. In a prophetic song, the siren tells of the exploits of the Portuguese viceroys, governors and captains in India until the time of D John de Castro, after which Tethys ascends a mountain with Gama, shows him the spheres after the system of Ptolemy and the globe of Asia and Africa, and describes the Indian life of St Thomas the apostle. Finally the navigators quit the island and reach Lisbon, and an epilogue contains a patriotic exhortation to King Sebastian and visions of glory, which ended so disastrously at the battle of Alcacer.
Though the influence of Camoens on Portuguese has been exaggerated, it was very considerable, and he so far fixed the written language that at the present day it is commonly and not inaccurately called “the language of Camoens.” The Lusiads is the most successful modern epic cast in the ancient mould, and it has done much to preserve the corporate life of the Portuguese people and to keep alive the spirit of nationality in times of adversity like the “Spanish Captivity” and the Napoleonic invasion. Even now it forms a powerful bond between the mother-country and her potentially mighty daughter-nation across the Atlantic, the United States of Brazil. The men of the Renaissance saw nothing incongruous in that mixture of paganism and Christianity which is found in the Lusiads as in Ariosto, though some modern critics, like Voltaire, consider it a grave artistic defect in the poem. The fact that the Lusiads is written in a little-known language, and its intensely national and almost exclusively historical character, undoubtedly militate against a right estimate of its value, now that Portugal, once a world power, has long ceased to hold the East in fee or to guide the destinies of Europe. But though political changes may and do react on literary appreciations, the Lusiads remains none the less a great poem, breathing the purest religious fervour, love of country and spirit of chivalry, with splendid imaginative and descriptive passages full of the truest and deepest poetry. The structure is Virgilian, but the whole conception is the author’s own, while the style is natural and noble, the diction nearly always correct and elegant, and the verse, as a rule, sonorous and full of harmony.
In addition to his epic, Camoens wrote sonnets, canzons, odes, sextines, eclogues, elegies, octaves, roundels, letters and comedies. The roundels include cartas, motes, voltas, cantigas, trovas, pastorals and endechas. In the opinion of many competent judges Camoens only attains his true stature in his lyrics; and a score of his sonnets, two or three of the canzons, eclogues and elegies, and the Babylonian roundels will bear comparison with any composition of the same kind that other literatures can show. Referring to the Lusiads, A. von Humboldt calls Camoens a “great maritime painter,” but in his best lyrics he is a thinker as well as a poet, and when free from the trammels of the epic and inherited respect for classical traditions, he reveals a personality so virile and deep, a philosophy so broad and human, a vision so wide, and a form and style so nearly perfect, as not only to make him the foremost of Peninsular bards but to entitle him to a place in that small company of universal poets of the first rank.
The oldest and most authentic portrait of Camoens appeared in 1624 with his life, by Manoel Severim de Faria. It is a kitcat and shows the poet in armour wearing a laurel crown; his right hand holds a pen, his left rests on a copy of the Lusiads, while a shield above shows the family arms, a dragon rising from between rocks. The likeness exhibits a Gothic or northern type, and the tradition of his red beard and blue eyes confirms it. Except for an ode, sonnet and elegy, all Camoens’s lyrics were published posthumously.
Authorities.—The most modern and most critical biographies are those of Dr Theophilo Braga, Camões, epoca e Vide (Oporto, 1907), and of Dr Wilhelm Storck, Luis de Camões Leben (Paderborn, 1890), while the most satisfactory edition of the complete works is due to the Visconde de Juromenha (6 vols., Lisbon, 1860-1869), though it contains some spurious matter. While rejecting without good reason many of the traditions accepted by Juromenha in his life of the poet, Storck embroiders on his own account, and Braga must be preferred to him. Two volumes of Innocencio da Silva’s Diccionario Bibliographico Portuguez (14 and 15) are entirely devoted to Camoens and Camoniana, the second of them dealing fully with the tercentenary celebrations. Among modern Portuguese studies of the national epic the most important are perhaps Camões e a Renascença em Portugal, by Oliveira Martins, and Camões e o Sentimento Nacional, by Dr T. Braga (Oporto, 1891). The latter volume contains useful information on the various editions of Camoens, with an account of the texts and remarks on his plagiarists. Very few poets have been so often translated, and a list and estimate of the English translations of the Lusiads from the time of Sir Richard Fanshawe (1655) downwards, will be found in Sir Richard Burton’s Camoens: His Life and His Lusiads, which, notwithstanding some errors, is a most informing book, and the result of a curious similarity of temperament and experience between master and disciple. Burton translated the Lusiads (2 vols., London, 1880) and the Lyricks (sonnets, canzons, odes and sextines; 2 vols., London, 1884), and left a version of all the minor works in MS. The accurate and readable version of the epic by Mr J. J. Aubertin, with the Portuguese text opposite, has gone through two editions (2nd ed., 2 vols., London, 1884), and there is a version of seventy of the sonnets, accompanied by the Portuguese text, by the same author (London, 1881).