The earliest known examples of literary writing in the Portuguese language is a collection of songbooks (cancioneiros) that date from the 12th century, written by anonymous court troubadours, aristocrats, and clerics with poetic and musical talent. In the 13th and 14th centuries, ballads (romanceiros) became popular at court. One of these written after the battle of Aljubarrota is considered to be the Portuguese equivalent of the English Arthurian legend. Literary prose in Portuguese began in the 14th century, with the compilation of chronicles (chrónicos) written by Fernão Lopes de Castenhada who was commissioned by King Duarte (1430-38) to write a history of the House of Aviz.
   During the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese chroniclers turned their attention to the discoveries and the Portuguese overseas empire. The Portuguese discoveries in India and Asia were chronicled by João de Barros, whose writing appeared posthumously under the pen name of Diogo Do Couto; Fernão Lopes de Castenhade wrote a 10-volume chronicle of the Portuguese in India. The most famous chronicle from this period was the Peregrinação (Pilgrimage), a largely true adventure story and history of Portugal that was as popular among 17th-century readers in Iberia as was Miguel de Cer-vantes's Don Quixote. Portugal's most celebrated work of national literature, The Lusiads (Os Lusíadas), written by Luís de Camões chronicled Vasco da Gama's voyage to India (1497-99) within the context of the history of Portugal.
   During the period when Portugal was under Spanish domination (1580-1640), the preferred language of literary expression was Castilian Spanish. The greatest writer of this period was Francisco Manuel de Melo, who wrote in Castilian and Portuguese. His most famous work is an eyewitness account of the 1640 Catalan revolt against Castile, Historia de los Movimientos y Separación de Cata-luna (1645), which allowed the Portuguese monarchy to regain its independence that same year.
   Little of note was written during the 17th century with the exception of Letters of a Portuguese Nun, an enormously popular work in the French language thought to have been written by Sister Mariana Alcoforado to a French officer Noel Bouton, Marquise de Chamilly.
   Modern Portuguese writing began in the early 19th century with the appearance of the prose-fiction of João Baptista de Almeida Garrett and the historian-novelist Alexandre Herculano. The last half of the 19th century was dominated by the Generation of 1870, which believed that Portugal was, due to the monarchy and the Catholic Church, a European backwater. Writers such as José Maria Eça de Queirós dissected the social decadence of their day and called for reform and national renewal. The most famous Portuguese poet of the 20th century is, without doubt, Fernando Pessoa, who wrote poetry and essays in English and Portuguese under various names. António Ferro (1895-1956) published best-selling accounts of the right-wing dictatorships in Italy and Spain that endeared him to Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar, who made him the Estado Novo's secretary of national propaganda.
   The various responses of the Portuguese people to the colonial African wars (1961-75) were chronicled by António Lobo Antunes. In 1998, the noted Portuguese novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer, José Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first writer in the Portuguese language of whatever nationality to be so honored. His most famous novels translated into English include: Baltazar and Blimunda (1987), The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (1991), and The History of the Siege of Lisbon (1996).
   See also Castelo Branco, Camilo; Garrett, João Baptista de Almeida; Queiros, José Maria Eça de; Pinto, Fernão Mendes; Theater.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.


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