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Orienting Os Lusíadas @ 450: Home

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This bibliography brings together resources and scholarship to mark the 450th anniversary of the publication of The Lusiads (Os Lusíadas), the magnum opus of Luís Vaz de Camões (c. 1524/5–1580), an epic that “sings” the story of Portugal’s colonial expansion. Long revered as the most important work in the Portuguese language, it draws inspiration from Greco-Roman epics such as Virgil's Aeneid and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as well as Persian and Hindu mythology. The ten cantos which structure the long narrative poem are in ottava rima and total 1,102 stanzas.

In his late twenties, the poet/soldier/scholar Camões embarked on a journey to the other side of the world that unbeknownst to him would provide the first-hand experiences that would indelibly inform his lyrical masterpiece. In 1553, he set sail on a carrack belonging to the fleet of Fernão Álvares Cabral and would not return for 17 years. He passed through regions where Vasco da Gama had sailed on his inaugural voyage to India, faced a tempest near the Cape of Good Hope where three other ships in the fleet were lost, and ultimately landed in Goa where he joined a squadron to combat “infidels” in the Red Sea. After returning to Goa in 1556, he was imprisoned for undetermined offenses until 1561, after which he secured employment for a few years at the trading post (factory) in Macau, traveling between the two until his return to Lisbon in 1570. There, he recited the manuscript of The Lusiads he had been working on all along to the teenage King Sebastian (1554-1578), who ordered it to be published in 1572.

The Orientalist work celebrates the "discovery" of a sea route to India by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (1469–1524). For centuries, it has served as a literary padrão, or monument, to Portugal’s vast empire in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. During the fascist Estado Novo (1930-1974) regime, The Lusiads also functioned as a powerful socializing tool in Portugal and instrument of imperial control in its remaining colonies and in the diaspora (Barletta, 9). Even into the twenty-first century, the text continues to occupy an exalted place in Portuguese national identity, with the anniversary of the poet’s death, June 10th, serving as the country’s national holiday.

The Lusiads form a central pillar of an entire mythos constructed around nostalgia for the empire, though one that has received increasing critical attention in scholarly and political circles alike. Soares (2006), for example, highlights the real material and bodily violences that lie behind discursive elements of the text’s poetic cantos (Soares, 80-1). Other scholars have traced the Persian and Indian lyric influences in the text (notably Hāfiz and Omar Khayyam), interpreting the national epic against itself (Horta, 47). Some have even identified critiques of Empire, as well as satirical treatments of etymologies and ancestral pretenses, within the text itself (Gorey, 214; Figueiredo, 190), calling into question the poet’s own consent for his work to be interpreted as the uncritical pro-imperialist national epic, par excellence. As 2022 marks the 450th anniversary of its publication, new scholarship (see Camões at Harvard: Navigating 450 years of Os Lusíadas) will continue to critically resituate The Lusiads both in its historical moment and in Portuguese and global literature today.

Cátedra Ana Hatherly

  Ana Hatherly Cátedra

In 2006, the Camões, Instituto da Cooperação e da Língua, I. P. signed an agreement of collaboration with the Institute of European Studies / Center for Portuguese Studies to support research in the area of Portuguese Studies, by virtue of the creation of the Cátedra Ana Hatherly. The Portuguese collection is grateful for additional support from the Luso-American Development Foundation.

We hope you make use of this educational bibliography which highlights resources in UC Berkeley's distinguished Portuguese collection but also provides access to open and freely available sources online. Book cover art and original derivative graphics used therein fall under the fair use provision of the US Copyright Act.

Cameron Flynn
Ph.D. student, Romance Languages and Literatures

Claude Potts
Librarian for Romance Languages Collections

FLAD: Luso-American Development Foundation



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