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Luis Vaz de Camões

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Luís (Vaz) de Camões (or Camoëns) is one of the greatest Portuguese poets, whose principal work, "Os Lusiadas" [The Lusiads], written 1572 and translated 1655, tells the Colonial History of the Portuguese people, and is at the same time a luscious love poem.  It is considered Portugal's national epic. 

Camões, whose life was one of high adventure, was probably born in Lisbon in 1524.  

He was apparently educated at the University of Coimbra. Subsequently, he became a tutor at the court of John III, from which he was banished in 1546 because of a love affair with one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting, Caterina de Ataíde; she was presumably the inspiration of his love poetry. 

  • Contemporary Portuguese copper-plate engraving of Luis Vaz de  Camões. Note, that on the engraving he has lost his right eye, which is also evident on the below stamp. 

Luis Vaz de Camoes. Copper Plate Engraving.

The "complete" set of Portuguese postage stamps shown on this page, issued 11th November 1924, tells a vivid story of his life. Note, that all single stamps come in several face values and different colours. For the sake of clarity, images of only one value are shown for each stamp. 

Portugal 1924. Luis Vaz de Macoes. Portrait. Portugal 1924. Luis Vaz de Camoes in Ceuta.

Virtually in exile, Camões pursued a military career and in 1547 lost an eye in battle in Morocco. 

In 1550 he returned to Lisbon, was imprisoned after a street brawl, and, upon being pardoned in 1553, sailed for India. 

It is thought that he may already have begun work on The Lusiads; at any rate, the central theme of the poem is the discovery of the sea route to India by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. 

After fighting in India, Camões was posted to Macau, but in 1558 was accused of extortion and ordered back to India. 

Surviving a dramatic shipwreck, he made his way home to Lisbon via Mozambique in 1570, with the manuscript of his epic intact; he had managed to save it from the shipwreck, as described on the stamp to the right.  Two years later the epic was published. 

  • Portugal 1924.  Camões Saving The Lusiads from Shipwreck. 

Portugal 1924. Luis Vaz de Camoes saving the Lusiads from Shipwreck.

Portugal 1924. Luis Vaz de Camoes. Front cover of the first issue of "The Lisuads".

The Lusiads, written in ten cantos in ottava rima, was patterned after both the Aeneid, the Latin epic of Virgil, and Orlando Furioso by the Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto. 

Woven into the story of Vasco da Gama's voyage are lively narrative and prophetic references to other events in Portuguese history, as well as certain Christian and humanist concepts. 

Although the work extols the achievements of the sons of Lusus -- that is, the Lusiads, or Portuguese -- it also reflects the poet's bitterness about the punitive aspects of Portuguese colonialism. The same vein of pessimism pervades many of his lyrics and his few surviving letters. 

  • Portugal 1924.  Front cover of the first issue of "The Lusiads". 

Camões's fame rests also on his substantial number of posthumously published shorter poems: odes and sonnets, elegies, and canzoni. In addition, he also wrote three plays, two of which were based on classical models. The main theme of his verse is the conflict between passionate, sensual love and the Neoplatonic ideal of spiritual love. It is noted for its formal perfection and simplicity, expressive of deep sentiment. 

Portugal 1924. Luis Vaz de Camoes. The last moments of his life.

Portugal 1924. Luis Vaz de Camoes. The sarcophagus of Camoes in the Monastery of the Hieronymites.

Portugal 1924. Luis Vaz de Camoes. The Camoes Monument in Lisbon.

Despite a small royal pension and the beginnings of world fame, Camões's last years were spent in obscurity, and he died in poverty in Lisbon on June 10, 1580. He is buried in the Monastery of the Hieronymites in Lisbon. 

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