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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


Oral Literature

Left-hand side of the triptych Domingo em Lisboa (Sunday in Lisbon), from the Gare da Rocha Conde de Óbidos, a fresco by José de Almada Negreiros

Portuguese oral literature is composed of Romanceiro (“popular romances” that are in fact versified compositions about warlike, social or amorous adventures, e.g. Romance da Nau Catrineta, Santa Iria, O Conde Alemão), Contos Tradicionais (short stories on everyday themes, frequently involving the intervention of supernatural forces, e.g. História da Carochinha) and Trovas Populares (the ballads that comprised the minstrels’ Cancioneiro (or song-book), e.g. Senhora do Almurtão). Most of these latter works were transmitted by song.

Cancioneiro da Ajuda
A girl dancing and playing castanets, a jester with a psaltery

As their creation was entirely anonymous, they were sometimes presented in quite different versions, being passed on by word of mouth and reproduced in the individual person’s memory. Naturally, this resulted in distortions that ended up enriching the oral literature and thus establishing its collective basis.


In keeping with the Romantic ideal of giving greater emphasis to national origins and popular tradition, Garrett, Teófilo Braga, Leite de Vasconcelos and Consiglieri Pedroso began the work of collecting these compositions together. In the twentieth century, Fernando Lopes Graça staged a large number of the musical versions made of the texts from the Cancioneiro and some romances.


© Instituto Camões, 2001