Bristo, pr. 1552-1553 (The Comedy of Bristo: Or, The Pimp, 1990)
A Castro, pr. 1553-1556 (Ignez de Castro, 1825)
Cioso, pr. 1554-1555 (English translation, 1825)
Poemas lusitanos, 1598 (poetry and 2 plays)
António Ferreira (fur-RAY-ruh) was born in 1528 in Lisbon, a city he soon came to love above all others and about which he frequently wrote flowery and often majestic verses. Ferreira was proud of his family name, and with ample reason. His was a noble family going as far back as King Arthur–from whom it was claimed that they were descended–as well as from Ferrabac, the first Norman king. The Ferreira name probably was associated with the craft of ironworking–one of the few trades that the nobility was allowed to practice in the Middle Ages. The poet’s father, Martim Ferreira, was a Knight of the Order of Saint James and was attached to the household of the duke of Coimbra. His mother, Mexia Froes Varella, who was descended from the first kings and queens of Castile, probably died when Ferreira was a child. He had one brother, Garcia Fróis, who at one time was in the service of the queen of Portugal, Catherine of Austria, in the middle of the sixteenth century.
Ferreira spent his childhood and part of his adolescence in Lisbon, but when it came time to take up his studies he moved to Coimbra, where the king, John III, had transferred the university in 1537. The period from 1543 to 1556, which he spent almost entirely in Coimbra, was the most prolific period of his life. It was then that he accomplished his extensive studies, discovered love, and wrote most of his works. On July 16, 1551, Ferreira received his first diploma, or “bachelor’s” degree; four years later, on July 14, 1555, he was awarded a doctorate. Possessing comfortable means but not wealthy, Ferreira was apparently well liked by his fellow students. It was also during this period that he became acquainted with the great Portuguese poet Francisco de Sá de Miranda, whose son, a classmate of his, was tragically killed in battle in 1553.
The death of Prince John, the son of John III, was a particular blow to Ferreira, who had dedicated his first comedy, The Comedy of Bristo, to the young prince. Ferreira’s professors had been instrumental, indirectly, in encouraging him to write this play. Coming not only from Portugal but also from Italy, France, Scotland, Spain, and Greece, the humanistic faculty had quickly recognized talent in the young scholar.
It is evident from the poetry he composed during his university days that Ferreira had several amorous liaisons of varying intensity. In early 1554 he fell in love with his future wife, Maria Pimentel.
His studies completed, Ferreira left Coimbra in 1556 for Lisbon. Frustrated in his many attempts to obtain a comfortable governmental position and unhappy at the delay of his marriage, Ferreira continued studying law through 1557. Finally, in the second half of that same year, he was named a magistrate and was finally married. His wedded bliss soon ended, however, with the premature death of Maria in 1560.
Following his recovery from the death of his wife, Ferreira grew in importance as a magistrate and became the intimate of many highly placed personages. Around 1564 he married Maria Leite. From this marriage was born Miguel Leite Ferreira, who later collected his father’s writings in the posthumous anthology Poemas lusitanos.
Continuing in his service as magistrate, Ferreira also continued his literary pursuits up until his death. It is thought that he was planning to compose an epic poem about his beloved fellow countrymen when he was struck down by the plague on November 29, 1569. His sepulcher was originally located in the transept of the Gothic Convent of Carmel in Lisbon, where numerous epitaphs from friends and admirers could also be found.