Authors: Luís de Camões

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Portuguese poet

Author Works


Os Lusíadas, 1572 (The Lusiads, 1655)

Cancioneiro, 1580

Rimas, 1595 (The Lyrides, 1803, 1884)


Enfatriões, pr. 1540

El-Rei Seleuco, pr. c. 1542

Filodemo, pr. 1555


Born in 1524, Luís Vaz de Camões (kuh-MOYNSH)–his name is also sometimes written Camoëns–has the distinction of having two cities, Lisbon and Coimbra, claim him as a native son. Modern scholarship has been unable to determine with certainty which city is correct in its claim, but Lisbon presents a somewhat better case. Camões apparently was educated at the University of Coimbra, a flourishing university in the sixteenth century, thanks to the patronage of King Joao III of Portugal. In the middle 1540’s Camões left the university for Lisbon. A tradition no longer believed correct held that he went to Lisbon as a tutor; another tradition no longer believed was that he followed a beautiful woman of the court.{$I[AN]9810000680}{$I[A]Cam{otilde}es, Luís de[Camoes, Luís de]}{$I[geo]PORTUGAL;Cam{otilde}es, Luís de[Camoes, Luís de]}{$I[tim]1524;Cam{otilde}es, Luís de[Camoes, Luís de]}

Luís de Camões

(Library of Congress)

By 1547, Camões had made a name for himself as the author of three successful comedies: Enfatriões (also known as Os Amphitryões), El-Rei Seleuco, and Filodemo. In 1547 he enlisted in the Portuguese army and served in northern Africa for two years; during the campaign he lost the sight of his right eye. Upon his return to Portugal he apparently led a loose life on the edge of court circles, earning himself the sobriquet of “Swashbuckler.” In June, 1552, he had the misfortune to wound a court official in a street brawl. He was imprisoned and released about a year later, apparently with the proviso that he leave the country, for he set sail within a month on a troop ship for the Far East, to be gone for seventeen years.

As a soldier in the East, Camões was stationed at the Indian city of Goa, a place of wealth and luxury. He took part in several expeditions to the coast of Malabar, the shores of the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf. Continuing as a writer, he won local fame as a satirist, and his Filodemo was staged successfully at Goa. In 1555 he received an appointment as trustee of property of deceased and absent Portuguese at Macao. He set out for his new post in 1556, arriving there in 1558. Two years later he was accused of misappropriation of funds and was returned to Goa as a prisoner. The trip back was almost fatal. The ship sank, and Camões was one of the few survivors. (Tradition holds that he swam ashore holding his manuscript of The Lusiads over his head and out of the water.) When he finally arrived in Goa in 1561, he was imprisoned; upon his release he was again arrested, this time for indebtedness. For several years he lived in the severest poverty, almost a beggar. In 1567 he managed to get to Mozambique in the company of Pedro Barreto, the former governor of Goa. What Camões did in the African colony is unknown; probably he served in some minor government post. In 1569 he left Mozambique, thanks to help from friends, and arrived home in Lisbon the following year.

Camões immediately set about seeing to the publication of his great epic poem, and in the following September he received royal permission to publish The Lusiads, which was in print early in 1572. In the spring of that year he was awarded a royal pension, but in the years that followed he wrote almost nothing. His poetic genius was apparently worn out by the trials he had weathered earlier in life. He died of the plague in Lisbon in 1580 and was hurried into an unmarked grave with other plague victims. Although he is remembered by readers in English for The Lusiads alone, he also wrote some very fine but almost untranslatable lyrics in his native language.

BibliographyBell, Aubrey F. G. Luis de Camões. London: Oxford University Press, 1923. This is a brief treatment that includes a biography of the poet, a description of his moral character as revealed by the poetry, an analysis of The Lusiads, and a chapter entitled “Camões as Lyric and Dramatic Poet.” A difficult book, its approach assumes that the reader is familiar with previous biographies and with the major Romance languages.Bowra, C. M. “Camões and the Epic of Portugal.” In From Virgil to Milton. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1945. An explication of The Lusiads as an epic poem, a poem of the ideal in manhood, demonstrating Camões’ indebtedness to classical tradition and especially to Homer, Vergil, and Ariosto. The discussion of how the poet reconciles his use of pagan divinities with his Christian message is particularly illuminating.Burton, Richard Francis. Camoens: His Life and His Lusiads. 2 vols. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1881. This is a commentary on The Lusiads in five sections: biography; bibliography emphasizing English translations; history and chronology of Portugal through the death of the poet; geographical study of the world as it was understood by da Gama and Camões; and annotations of specific passages in the poem. Appendix includes a table of important episodes in the poem and a glossary.Freitas, William. Camoens and His Epic: A Historic, Geographic, and Cultural Survey. Stanford, Calif.: Institute of Hispanic American and Luso-Brazilian Studies, Stanford University, 1963. A historic and geographical study using The Lusiads as a source for information on Portugal’s clashes with other nations. The final chapter traces the poem’s roots of nationalism through the next four centuries of Portuguese history. Includes a bibliography of biographical, critical, and historical works in several languages as well as twenty illustrations, including portraits and maps.Hart, Henry H. Luis de Camoëns and the Epic of the Lusiads. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962. A comprehensive, readable biography, filled with colorful detail of the scenery, culture, and history through which the poet walked. Appendices provide several examples of Camões’ poems and a listing of books on the Orient which he may have read. Includes a generous bibliography and eight illustrations.Monteiro, George. The Presence of Camões: Influences on the Literature of England, America, and Southern Africa. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996. An introduction to Camões and an investigation of his influence on a number of writers. Includes bibliographic references and an index.Nicolopulos, James. The Poetics of Empire in the Indies: Prophecy and Imitation in “La araucana” and “Os lusíadas.” University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000. An investigation of literary representations of sixteenth century Iberian colonialism and imperialism. Camões’ poem Os lusíadas, an epic celebration of early Portuguese maritime expansion in the Indian Ocean, is interpreted.O’Halloran, Colin M. History and Heroes in the “Lusiads”: A Commemorative Essay on Camoëns. Lisbon: Commissão Executiva do IV Centenário da Publicação de “Os Lusíadas,” 1974. A short book examining the use Camões made of the history of Portugal in the creation of the heroes and kings in his poem. Discusses the poem as a record of and tribute to Portugal’s national drive to conquer new lands and convert the people there. It is interesting and accessible, but all quotes from the poem are in Portuguese.
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