Luís Vaz de Camões (pron. IPA /lu'iʃ vaʃ dɨ ka'mõjʃ/; sometimes rendered in English as Camoens) (c. 1524 – June 10, 1580) is considered Portugal's greatest poet. His mastery of verse has been compared to that of Homer, Virgil, and Dante. He wrote a considerable amount of lyrical poetry and drama but is best remembered for his epic work Os Lusíadas. His philosophical work The Parnasum of Luís Vaz was lost.
Many details concerning the life of Camões remain unknown, but he is thought to have been born around 1524. He was the son of Simão Vaz de Camões and Anna de Sá e Macedo, a family from the northern Portuguese region of Chaves.
He probably studied humanities in Coimbra, where his uncle D. Bento de Camões was a priest at the renowned Monastery of Santa Cruz. Camões moved back to Lisbon in 1542, where he led a bohemian lifestyle.
As a young man he fought the Moors in Morocco and lost one eye. In 1552, he returned to Lisbon, where he is reported to have stabbed an officer of the court in the neck. He was jailed until March 1553, but he was released on the condition that he serve the king in India. In Goa, Camões was imprisoned for debt. He found Goa "a step-mother of all honest men" but he studied local customs and mastered the local geography and history. Camões took part in military expeditions to the Malabar Coast and the Red Sea. In 1556. he sailed to Macao, where he was given an officership. In 1558, he began his long voyage home. He was shipwrecked in the Mekong and was saved by floating on a board, saving his manuscript but losing his Chinese lover. He was delayed at Mozambique and did not arrive in Lisbon until 1570. He published Os Lusíadas in 1572. The king gave him a pension, but when the king died, the pension ended. Thereafter, Camões lived in poverty, cared for by a servant called Jao who had followed him from Macao.
In 1578 he heard of the appalling defeat of the Battle of Alcazarquivir, where King Sebastião was killed and the Portuguese army destroyed. The Spanish troops were approaching Lisbon when Camões wrote to the Captain General of Lamego: "All will see that so dear to me was my country that I was content to die not only in it but with it". Camões died in Lisbon in 1580, at the age of 56.
Os Lusíadas are named from the fabled hero Lusus, who is said to have come with Ulysses to what is now Portugal and called it Lusitania. Os Lusíadas tells the story of Vasco da Gama and the Portuguese heroes who sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and opened a new route to the Indies. It is a humanist epic in its association of pagan mythology with a Christian outlook, its conflicting feelings about war and empire, its love of home and desire of adventure, and its appreciation of pleasure and the demands of a heroic outlook.
Os Lusíadas is considered a major epic poem of modern times on account of its grandeur and universality. The poem adapts the classical spirit of Homer's and Virgil's epics. Camões' ambition was to create a national epic that would rival those of his two classical precursors. The poem tells the achievements of Portugal since its independence, in the 12th century, until the moment when the Portuguese kingdom is united to the one of Spain, keeping its formal independence, but being ruled by the same king, Filipe the first of Portugal and the second of Spain, in 1580. The poem, therefore, marks the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity.
Camões begun composing his Os Lusiadas in 1550; he completed his masterpiece by 1570. He finished most of it in the period between 1555 and 1558. He published the work in October 1571. More editions followed in 1572. The poem, for Camões, was a glorification of the Portuguese people. In the 15th century, Portugal had reached its Golden Age. The poem itself narrates the history of Portugal at its apex, focusing on Vasco da Gama's trip to establish a maritime contract with the Indies. Vasco da Gama represents the Portuguese nation, the hero of the poem.
Although Camões has primarily been recognized as an epic poet outside of Portugal and Brazil, he also left a large and impressive body of lyric poetry. His sonnets are classics of the Portuguese language, and although sometimes repetitive in ideas, they exhibit enormous variety, from a breathtaking paraphrasis of Job ("That the day of my birth shall perish and decay") to laments about the disillusionment, the mutability, and the human weakness in the face of the great theatre of the world. Also worthy of mention are his poignant remembrances of his beloved Dinamene (Ti-Na-Men), his Chinese lover who supposedly drowned before his very eyes.
His ten (or more, depending on the source—the authority on the matter, however, has been Jorge de Sena) Canções (Songs) are a very impressive psychological and emotional dissection through poetic rhetoric, the complete dramatization of the inner self and one's own consciousness—qualities most often thought of as pertaining originarily to Shakespeare (Bloom) or Donne (Eliot)—making Camões a kind of precursor of that line of poetry which would culminate in William Wordsworth, even more so than, say, Petrarch or Auzias March. There are still many others of his lyric works that could be brought to the table; Camões was, despite later Parnassian attacks, extremely well-versed in the language and skilled with an impressive array of poetic forms.