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History of Portuguese Literature Origins of Portuguese Literature The Portuguese Language Oral Literature Fiction Lyricism
Travel Literature Cantigas de amigo Historiography Doctrinal Prose


Os Lusíadas

Luís de Camões, Os Lusíadas,
1st edition, 1572

"Vasco da Gama na Ilha dos Amores" (Vasco da Gama on the Island of Love) by Vieira Portuense [1765-1805]

An epic poem (1572) by Luís de Camões, inspired by classical literature (in keeping with Vergil’s Aeneid), but with a distinctly contemporary flavour, based on observation and consisting of ten cantos composed of ten-verse stanzas in heroic decasyllables. It lives from an aesthetically harmonised contradiction between the action of pagan divinities (who help or hinder the progress of the Portuguese during their epic maritime voyage to India, which is the book’s theme) and the protection of Christian feeling and the expansion of faith, breathing life into an ardent passion for conquering and possessing the world.

Vasco da Gama is the hero, Venus is the goddess who protects him, and Bacchus is his feared adversary - but the “Lusitanian people” reach India, offering “new worlds to the world”, and the poet narrates this remarkable undertaking, alternating the ardour of enthusiasm and belief with the disillusion caused by recognising human meanness, “wretched luck, strange condition”.

Written with exemplary narrative mastery, the poem represents a fine example of the use of the Portuguese language, modern, malleable and rich in its expressive complexity and exceptional lyrical origins.

They were already drawing closer to the land
that had been longed for by so many,
that is enclosed between the currents of the Indian Ocean
and the Ganges, that lives in the earthly sky.
Now, come, strong people, who in war
wish to emerge victorious:
You have already arrived, you have before you
the abundant riches of the earth!!


A bough I had in my hand... But oh, blindly,
I, who, insanely and rashly, commit myself,
without you, nymphs of the Tagus and Mondego,
along such a long, arduous and varied path!
I invoke your favour, I who sail
upon the high seas, with such an adverse wind
that, if you do not help me, I greatly fear
that my weak little boat will soon sink.

Os Lusíadas, Canto VII


© Instituto Camões, 2001