Camoes in Goa: The Journey of an Epic

BY Jugneeta Sudan
Runner-up jrlj best in non-fiction 2018

Despite his far-reaching influences on European, American and South African writers, the great Renaissance poet Luís Vaz de Camões (1524–1580) remains one of the best-kept secrets outside of Portugal and its colonies. The title of his epic poem Os Lusíadas,literally means the descendants of Lusus, the mythical ancestor of the Portuguese, and the poem is a monument to the heroic deeds of Lusitanians. The courage and enterprise of Portuguese oceanic explorations, most notably Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India, is presented in a Homeric fashion and is the central theme in the epic. Around this, is portrayed in the ekphrastic tradition, the history and destiny of the Portuguese race.

Camões has been eulogized by many, including Italian poet, Torquato Tasso’s sonnet ‘Rime d’Encomio’ — ‘feared no man but Camões,’ Blake’s painted portrait of Camões and Wordsworth’s literary veneration, ‘Camões, he the accomplished and the good/Gave to thy fame a more illustrious flight.’ Camões has been honoured by titles such as the ‘Portuguese Virgil’ or the ‘Portuguese Plutarch.’ Hitherto we shall pursue the evolvement of his epic as it provoked, inspired and engaged writers through the centuries.

George Monteiro’s meticulous study and assessment in The Presence of Camões (UPK, 1996), brings forth Camões’s global influence on the writings of eminent literary icons. George writes, ‘Introduced to English readers in 1655, Camões’s work from the beginning appealed strongly to writers. The young Elizabeth Barrett’s Camonean poems, for example, inspired Edgar Allan Poe to appropriate elements from Camões. Herman Melville’s reading of Camões bore fruit in his career-long borrowings from the Portuguese poet. Longfellow, T. W. Higginson, and Emily Dickinson read and championed Camões. And Camões as epicist and love poet is an éminence grise in several of Elizabeth Bishop’s strongest Brazilian poems.

Besides emulating Camões through their varied responses, other scholarships also experimented on an intertextuality of languages by translating Os Lusíadas. Its first two English translations by Sir Richard Fanshawe and William Julius Mickle were followed by that of Sir Richard Burton, the adventurer-traveller, writer and translator of Arabian Nights. Many more followed through the nineteenth and twentieth century, ending in the latest by Landeg White.


Read the full essay in our print anthology ‘The Brave New World of Goan Writing 2018.’ Buy the anthology here.

Jugneeta Sudan’s literary criticism, has focused on children’s classic literature, Western classical texts, art history and poetry. She writes for several publications, including the Navhind Times, and Daily O’, India. She has curated talks on contemporary art — Raza Dialogue, with Raza Foundation, Delhi and Museum of Goa, and an evening of poetry, art and music at the Goa pavilion — Serendipity Arts Festival, 2017. She heads PAG, the poetry appreciation group at Bookworm.