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THE LUSIAD
Introduction. The author of the Portuguese epic, Luis de Camo?ns, was born at Lisbon in 1524. Although his father, commander of a warship, was lost at sea during his infancy, his mother contrived to give him a good education, and even sent him to the University at Coimbra, where he began to write poetry. After graduating Camo?ns served at court, and there incurred royal displeasure by falling in love with a lady his majesty chose to honor with his attentions. During a period of banishment at Santarem, Camo?ns began the Lusiad, Os Lusiades, an epic poem celebrating Vasco da Gama's journey to India in 1497[14] and rehearsing with patriotic enthusiasm the glories of Portuguese history. Owing to its theme, this epic, which a great authority claims should be termed "the Portugade," is also known as the Epic of Commerce or the Epic of Patriotism.

After his banishment Camo?ns obtained permission to join the forces directed against the Moors, and shortly after lost an eye in an engagement in the Strait of Gibraltar. Although he distinguished himself as a warrior, Camo?ns did not even then neglect the muse, for he reports he wielded the pen with one hand and the sword with the other.

After this campaign Camo?ns returned to court, but, incensed by the treatment he received at the hands of jealous courtiers, he soon vowed his ungrateful country should not even possess his bones, and sailed for India, in 1553, in a fleet of four vessels, only one of which was to arrive at its destination, Goa.

While in India Camo?ns sided with one of the native kings, whose wrath he excited by imprudently revealing his political tendencies. He was, therefore, exiled to Macao, where for five years he served as "administrator of the effects of deceased persons," and managed to amass a considerable fortune while continuing his epic. It was on his way back to Goa that Camo?ns suffered shipwreck, and lost all he possessed, except his poem, with which he swam ashore.

Sixteen years after his departure from Lisbon, Camo?ns returned to his native city, bringing nothing save his completed epic, which, owing to the pestilence then raging in Europe, could be published only in 1572. Even then the Lusiad attracted little attention, and won for him only a small royal pension, which, however, the next king rescinded. Thus, poor Camo?ns, being sixty-two years old, died in an almshouse, having been partly supported since his return by a Javanese servant, who begged for his master in the streets of Lisbon.

Camo?ns' poem Os Lusiades, or the Lusitanians (i.e., Portuguese), comprises ten books, containing 1102 stanzas in heroic iambics, and is replete with mythological allusions. Its outline is as follows:

Book I. After invoking the muses and making a ceremonious address to King Sebastian, the poet describes how Jupiter, having assembled the gods on Mount Olympus, directs their glances upon Vasco da Gama's ships plying the waves of an unknown sea, and announces to them that the Portuguese, who have already made such notable maritime discoveries, are about to achieve the conquest of India.

Bacchus, who has long been master of this land, thereupon wrathfully vows Portugal shall not rob him of his domain, while Venus and Mars implore Jupiter to favor the Lusitanians, whom they consider descendants of the Romans. The king of the gods is so ready to grant this prayer, that he immediately despatches Mercury to guide the voyagers safely to Madagascar. Here the Portuguese, mistaken for Moors on account of their swarthy complexions, are at first made welcome. But when the islanders discover the strangers are Christians, they determine to annihilate them if possible. So, instigated by one of their priests,—Bacchus in disguise,—the islanders attack the Portuguese when they next land to get water. Seeing his men in danger, Da Gama discharges his artillery, and the terrified natives fall upon their knees and not only beg for mercy, but offer to provide him with a pilot capable of guiding him safely to India.

This offer is accepted by Da Gama, who does not suspect this pilot has instructions to take him to Quiloa, where all Christians are slain. To delude the unsuspecting Portuguese navigator into that port, the pilot avers the Quiloans are Christians; but all his evil plans miscarry, thanks to the interference of Mars and Venus, who by contrary winds hinder the vessels from entering this port.

Book II. The traitor pilot now steers toward Momba?a, where meanwhile Bacchus has been plotting to secure the death of the Portuguese. But here Venus and her nymphs block the entrance of the harbor with huge rocks, and the pilot, realizing the Christians are receiving supernatural aid, jumps overboard and is drowned!

Venus, having thus twice rescued her protégés from imminent death, now visits Olympus, and by the exercise of all her conquettish wiles obtains from Jupiter a promise to favor the Portuguese. In accordance with this pledge, Mercury himself is despatched to guide the fleet safely to Melinda, whose harbor the Portuguese finally enter, decked with flags and accompanied by triumphant music.

  Now Gama's bands the quiv'ring trumpet blow,
  Thick o'er the wave the crowding barges row,
  The Moorish flags the curling waters sweep,
  The Lusian mortars thunder o'er the deep;
  Again the fiery roar heaven's concave tears,
  The Moors astonished stop their wounded ears;
  Again loud thunders rattle o'er the bay,
  And clouds of smoke wide-rolling blot the day;
  The captain's barge the gen'rous king ascends,
  His arms the chief enfold, the captain bends
  (A rev'rence to the scepter'd grandeur due):
  In silent awe the monarch's wond'ring view
  Is fix'd on Vasco's noble mien; the while
  His thoughts with wonder weigh the hero's toil.
  Esteem and friendship with his wonder rise,
  And free to Gama all his kingdom lies.[15]

Book III. As Vasco da Gama has solemnly vowed not to leave his ship until he can set foot upon Indian soil, he refuses to land at Melinda although cordially invited to do so by the native king. Seeing the foreign commander will not come ashore, the king visits the Portuguese vessel, where he is sumptuously entertained and hears from Da Gama's own lips an enthusiastic outline of the history of Portugal. After touching upon events which occurred there in mythological ages, Vasco relates how Portugal, under Viriagus, resisted the Roman conquerors, and what a long conflict his country later sustained against the Moors. He also explains by what means Portugal became an independent kingdom, and enthusiastically describes the patriotism of his countryman Egas Moniz, who, when his king was captured at the battle of Guimaraens, advised this prince to purchase his liberty by pledging himself to do homage to Castile. But, his master once free, Egas Moniz bade him retract this promise, saying that, since he and his family were pledged for its execution, they would rather lose their lives than see Portugal subjected to Castile.

  "And now, O king," the kneeling Egas cries,
  "Behold my perjured honor's sacrifice:
  If such mean victims can atone thine ire,
  Here let my wife, my babes, myself expire.
  If gen'rous bosoms such revenge can take,
  Here let them perish for the father's sake:
  The guilty tongue, the guilty hands are these,
  Nor let a common death thy wrath appease;
  For us let all the rage of torture burn,
  But to my prince, thy son, in friendship turn."

Touched by the patriotism and devotion of Moniz, the foe not only spared his life, but showered favors upon him and even allowed him to go home.

The king, thus saved from vassalage by the devotion of Moniz, is considered the first independent ruler of Portugal. Shortly after this occurrence, he defeated five Moorish rulers in the battle of Ourique, where the Portuguese claim he was favored with the appearance of a cross in the sky. Because of this miracle, the Portuguese monarch incorporated a cross on his shield, surrounding it with five coins, said to represent the five kings he defeated. Later on, being made a prisoner at Badajoz, he abdicated in favor of his son.

After proudly enumerating the heroic deeds of various Alphonsos and Sanchos of Portugal, Da Gama related the touching tale of Fair Inez de Castro (retold by Mrs. Hemans), to whom Don Pedro, although she was below him in station, was united by a secret marriage. For several years their happiness was unbroken and several children had been born to them before the king, Don Pedro's father, discovered this alliance. Taking advantage of a temporary absence of his son, Alphonso the Brave sent for Inez and her children and sentenced them all to death, although his daughter-in-law fell at his feet and implored him to have mercy upon her little ones, even if he would not spare her. The king, however, would not relent, and signalled to the courtiers to stab Inez and her children.

  In tears she utter'd—as the frozen snow
  Touch'd by the spring's mild ray, begins to flow,
  So just began to melt his stubborn soul,
  As mild-ray'd Pity o'er the tyrant stole;
  But destiny forbade: with eager zeal
  (Again pretended for the public weal),
  Her fierce accusers urg'd her speedy doom;
  Again dark rage diffus'd its horrid gloom
  O'er stern Alonzo's brow: swift at the sign,
  Their swords, unsheath'd, around her brandish'd shine.
  O foul disgrace, of knighthood lasting stain,
  By men of arms a helpless lady slain!

On returning home and discovering what his father had done, Don Pedro was ready to rebel, but was restrained from doing so by the intervention of the queen. But, on ascending the throne when his father died, Don Pedro had the body of his murdered wife lifted out of the grave, decked in regal apparel, seated on the throne beside him, and he compelled all the courtiers to do homage to her and kiss her dead hand, vowing as much honor should be shown her as if she had lived to be queen. This ceremony ended, the lady's corpse was laid in a tomb, over which her mourning husband erected a beautiful monument. Then, hearing his wife's slayers had taken refuge with Peter the Cruel, Don Pedro waged war fierce against this monarch until he surrendered the culprits, who, after being tortured, were put to death.

Vasco da Gama also related how another king, Fernando, stole fair Eleanora from her husband, and vainly tried to force the Portuguese to accept their illegitimate daughter Beatrice as his successor.

Book IV. Rather than accept as queen a lady who had married a Spanish prince,—who would probably unite their country with Spain,—the Portuguese fought the battle of Eljubarota in favor of Don John, and succeeded in dictating terms of peace to the Spanish at Seville. Some time after this the king of Portugal and his brother were captured by the Moors, and told they could recover their freedom only by surrendering Ceuta. Pretending acquiescence, the king returned to Portugal, where, as he had settled with his brother, who remained as hostage with the Moors, he refused to surrender the city.

After describing the victories of Alfonso V., Vasco da Gama related how John II., thirteenth king of Portugal, first began to seek a maritime road to India, and how his successor, Emmanuel, was invited in a vision, by the gods of the Indus and Ganges, to come and conquer their country.

  Here as the monarch fix'd his wond'ring eyes,
  Two hoary fathers from the streams arise;
  Their aspect rustic, yet, a reverend grace
  Appear'd majestic on their wrinkled face:
  Their tawny beards uncomb'd, and sweepy long,
  Adown their knees in shaggy ringlets hung;
  From every lock the crystal drops distil,
  And bathe their limbs, as in a trickling rill;
  Gay wreaths of flowers, of fruitage and of boughs,
  (Nameless in Europe), crown'd their furrow'd brows.

Book V. Such was the enthusiasm caused by this vision that many mariners dedicated their lives to the discovery of this road to India. Among these Gama modestly claims his rank, declaring that, when he called for volunteers to accompany him, more men than he could take were ready to follow him. [History reports, however, that, such was the terror inspired by a voyage in unknown seas, Vasco da Gama had to empty the prisons to secure a crew!] Then the narrator added he had—as was customary—taken ten prisoners with him, whose death sentence was to be commuted provided they faithfully carried out any difficult task he appointed.

After describing his parting with his father, Vasco da Gama relates how they sailed past Mauritania and Madeira, crossed the line, and losing sight of the polar star took the southern cross as their guide.

  "O'er the wild waves, as southward thus we stray,
  Our port unknown, unknown the wat'ry way,
  Each night we see, impress'd with solemn awe,
  Our guiding stars and native skies withdraw,
  In the wide void we lose their cheering beams,
  Lower and lower still the pole-star gleams.

* * * * *

  "Another pole-star rises o'er the wave:
  Full to the south a shining cross appears,
  Our heaving breasts the blissful omen cheers:
  Seven radiant stars compose the hallow'd sign
  That rose still higher o'er the wavy brine."

A journey of five months, diversified by tempests, electrical phenomena, and occasional landings, brought them to Cape of Tempests, which since Diaz had rounded it was called the Cape of Good Hope. While battling with the tempestuous seas of this region, Vasco da Gama beheld, in the midst of sudden darkness, Adamastor, the Spirit of the Cape, who foretold all manner of dangers from which it would be difficult for them to escape.

  "We saw a hideous phantom glare;
  High and enormous o'er the flood he tower'd,
  And 'thwart our way with sullen aspect lower'd:
  An earthy paleness o'er his cheeks was spread,
  Erect uprose his hairs of wither'd red;
  Writhing to speak, his sable lips disclose,
  Sharp and disjoin'd, his gnashing teeth's blue rows;
  His haggard beard flow'd quiv'ring on the wind,
  Revenge and horror in his mien combin'd;
  His clouded front, by with'ring lightnings scar'd,
  The inward anguish of his soul declar'd.
  His red eyes, glowing from their dusky caves,
  Shot livid fires: far echoing o'er the waves
  His voice resounded, as the cavern'd shore
  With hollow groan repeats the tempest's roar."

The King of Melinda here interrupts Vasco da Gama's tale to explain he has often heard of that Adamastor, a Titan transformed into a rock but still possessing supernatural powers.

Resuming his narrative, Da Gama next describes their landing to clean their foul ships, their sufferings from scurvy, their treacherous welcome at Mozambic, their narrow escape at Quiloa and Momba?a, and ends his account with his joy at arriving at last at Melinda.

Book VI. In return for the hospitality enjoyed on board of the Portuguese ships, the king of Melinda supplies Da Gama with an able pilot, who, steering straight for India, brings the Portuguese safely to their goal, in spite of the fact that Bacchus induces Neptune to stir up sundry tempests to check them. But, the prayers of the Christian crew and the aid of Venus counteract Bacchus' spells, so Da Gama's fleet enters Calicut, in 1497, and the Lusitanians thus achieve the glory of discovering a maritime road to India!

Book VII. We now hear how a Moor, Mon?aide, detained a prisoner in Calicut, serves as interpreter for Da Gama, explaining to him how this port is governed by the Zamorin, or monarch, and by his prime minister. The interpreter, at Da Gama's request, then procures an audience from the Zamorin for his new master.

Book VIII. The poet describes how on the way to the palace Da Gama passes a heathen temple, where he and his companions are shocked to behold countless idols, but where they can but admire the wonderful carvings adorning the walls on three sides. In reply to their query why the fourth wall is bare, they learn it has been predicted India shall be conquered by strangers, whose doings are to be depicted on the fourth side of their temple.

After hearing Da Gama boast about his country, the Zamorin dismisses him, promising to consider a trade treaty with Portugal. But, during the next night, Bacchus, disguised as Mahomet, appears to the Moors in Calicut, and bids them inform the Zamorin that Da Gama is a pirate, whose rich goods he can secure if he will only follow their advice.

This suggestion, duly carried out, results in Da Gama's detention as a prisoner when he lands with his goods on the next day. But, although the prime minister fancies the Portuguese fleet will soon be in his power, Da Gama has prudently given orders that, should any hostile demonstration occur before his return, his men are to man the guns and threaten to bombard the town. When the Indian vessels therefore approach the Portuguese fleet, they are riddled with shot.

Book IX. Because the Portuguese next threaten to attack the town, the Zamorin promptly sends Da Gama back with a cargo of spices and gems and promises of fair treatment hereafter. The Portuguese thereupon sail home, taking with them the faithful Mon?aide, who is converted on the way and baptized as soon as they land at Lisbon.
Book X. On the homeward journey Venus, wishing to reward the brave Lusitanians for all their pains and indemnify them for their past hardships, leads them to her "Isle of Joy." Here she and her nymphs entertain them in the most acceptable mythological style, and a siren foretells in song all that will befall their native country between Vasco da Gama's journey and Camo?ns' time. Venus herself guides the navigator to the top of a hill, whence she vouchsafes him a panoramic view of all the kingdoms of the earth and of the spheres which compose the universe.

In this canto we also have a synopsis of the life of St. Thomas, the Apostle of India, and see the Portuguese sail happily off with the beauteous brides they have won in Venus' Isle of Joy. The return home is safely effected, and our bold sailors are welcomed in Lisbon with delirious joy, for their journey has crowned Portugal with glory. The poem concludes, as it began, with an apostrophe from the poet to the king.

The Lusiad is so smoothly written, so harmonious, and so full of similes that ever since Camo?ns' day it has served as a model for Portuguese poetry and is even yet an accepted and highly prized classic in Portuguese Literature.


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