Os Lusíadas, 1572 (The Lusiads, 1655)
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.
Luís de Camões
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.