The Lusiads

   Portugal's national epic poem of the Age of Discoveries, written by the nation's most celebrated poet, Luís de Camões. Published in 1572, toward the end of the adventurous life of Camões, Os Lusíadas is the most famous and most often-quoted piece of literature in Portugal. Modeled in part on the style and format of Virgil's Aeneid, Os Lusíadas is the story of Portugal's long history, and features an evocation of the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama's epic discovery of the sea route from Portugal to Asia. Part of the epic poem was composed when Camões was in royal service in Portugal's Asian empire, including in Goa and Macau. While the dramatic framework is dominated by various deities from classical literature, much of what is described in Portugal, Africa, and Asia is real and accurately rendered by the classically educated (at Coimbra University) Camões, who witnessed both the apogee and the beginning of decline of Portugal's seaborne empire and world power.
   While the poet praises imperial power and greatness, Camões features a prescient naysayer: "The Old Man of Restelo," on the beach where Vasco da Gama is about to embark for Indian adventures, criticizes Portuguese expansion beyond Africa to Asia. Camões was questioning the high price of an Asian empire, and gave voice to those anti-imperialists and "Doubting Thomases" in the country who opposed more overseas expansion beyond Africa. It is interesting to note that in the Portuguese language usage and tradition since the establishment of The Lusiads as a national poem, "The Old Man of Restelo" ("O Velho do Restelo") came to symbolize not a wise Cassandra with timely warnings that Portugal would be fatally weakened by empire and might fall prey to neighboring Spain, but merely a Doubting Thomas in popular sentiment. The Lusiads soon became universally celebrated and accepted, and it has been translated into many languages. In the history of criticism in Portugal, more has been written about Camões and The Lusiads than about any other author or work in Portuguese literature, now more than a thousand years in the making.

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

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