1001 Reads

Regularly updated blog charting the most important novels of the last 2000 and something years

Monday, July 21, 2008

12. Luis Vaz de Camoes - The Lusiads (Os Lusiadas) (1572)


This is a text that if you were brought up in a Portuguese speaking country you will know, and you will probably know it inside out and have spent long hours of your schooling analysing and interpreting it. That also probably means you didn't have a lot of fun with it.

Also, although there are several translations into English, none of them are that good, the only one that kind of approaches it is the Oxford World Classics one by Landeg White. It's cheap as well.

The book consists of the heavily fictionalised voyage of Vasco da Gama in verse, but it is much more than this, it is also a work of fantasy where the Roman gods take an active part and a book that is essential in understanding the Portuguese idea of themselves that comes down to this day.

It is not of course the most politically correct book you can get, it is an apology of empire and colonialism, but it is one that in the effort to portray the Portuguese people as great also has the decency not to demonise its opponents, the people the Portuguese meet are courageous and honourable for the most part, although Muslims in India come off pretty badly from it. But you can't really be projecting our sensibilities onto a 16th century work. What is amazing about it is what a close mimic it is of works like the Illiad and Odyssey, Camoes very purposefully attempts to create the great Portuguese fantastic epic, and does it with considerable brilliance.

The language in the original is beautiful and extremely intricate, the references to classical works are extensive to the point where the annotations in my version composed half the book. But there is plenty to enjoy, sea voyages, monsters, gods, political and religious intrigue it is all here.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

At the end of his obligatory service, Camoes was given the position of chief warrant officer in Macau. He was charged with managing the properties of missing and deceased soldiers in the Orient. During this time he worked on his epic poem Os Lusíadas ("The Lusiads") in a grotto. He was later accused of misappropriations and traveled to Goa to respond to the accusations of the tribunal. During his return journey, near the Mekong River along the Cambodian coast, he was shipwrecked, saving his manuscript but losing his Chinese lover. His shipwreck survival in the Mekong Delta was enhanced by the legendary detail that he succeeded in swimming ashore while holding aloft the manuscript of his still-unfinished epic.

Some kids decide to sing the beginning of the Lusiads to the sound of Blitzkrieg Bop, interestingly the metric fits:


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