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All About Portugal | February 26, 2021

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Camões, a brilliant poet

monument to the discoveries - padrão dos descobrimentos - camoes
Clara Campos

Camões, the greatest Portuguese writer ever, is a literature genius, whose mastery is equaled to that of Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil and Dante.

Luis Vaz de Camões is considered to be the greatest poet of the Portuguese language and his mastery is compared to that of Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil and Dante. Even though he had written a considerable amount of poetry and drama Camões went down in history for his The Lusiads (Os Lusíadas), the epic book on the Portuguese Discoveries. Camões genius was acknowledged by the Portuguese who declared the 10th of June, the date of the poet’s death, as Portugal’s National Day.

Camões life

Most of the details of Camões’s life are unknown, starting with the year of his birth. It is thought that the poet, the only child of Simão Vaz de Camões and Ana de Sá Macedo, was born around 1524. His birthplace is disputed by at least four cities, namely Lisbon, Coimbra, Alenquer and Constança. His father left the family to pursue personal riches in India but he died in Goa a few years later.

Raised without a father, even though his mother had remarried, his uncle Bento de Camões, Prior at the Monastery of Santa Cruz and Chancellor at the University of Coimbra became in charge of his education; this circumstance allowed Camões a privileged education provided by Dominicans and Jesuits as well as the opportunity to attend the University of Coimbra. His uncle status also granted him access to Greek, Roman and Latin literature, allowed him to read Latin and Italian works and to write in Spanish.

During his youth, Camões defined himself as a romantic and idealist poet as well as conquer of hearts. His most famous love affairs are said to be with Catherine of Ataíde, lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and with the Princess Mary, sister of King John III of Portugal. While on one hand his talent was granting him more and more admirers, on the other hand his rebel spirit was granting him fierce opponents. In fact, his challenging character and caustic writing originated several incidents that led to the order of his exile from Lisbon in 1548. After a period of six months in Ribatejo, Camões enlisted in the overseas militia and went to Ceuta in 1549, where he lost the sight in his right eye during a battle with the Moors.

Camões returned to Lisbon in 1551 to enjoy a bohemian lifestyle. However, his rebelliousness got him into troubles once more: after injuring a member of the Royal Stables the poet was imprisoned; his mother plead for his release and he was sentenced to pay a fine of 4,000 réis and to serve in the militia in the Orient.

He departure for Goa in 1553 where he was imprisoned for debt. During his stay abroad, serving his sentence, Camões studied local customs, geography and history. He also continued with his writing and helped the uneducated men of the fleet by writing letters to their families.

At the end of his obligatory service he was appointed chief warrant officer in Macau, becoming in charged with the managing of the properties of the missing and deceased soldiers. It was in Macau that he started to write his world famed masterpiece Os Lusíadas. Being accused of misappropriations was sent to Goa to respond to the accusations in court. During his return voyage, he was shipwrecked along the Cambodian coast, near the Mekong River. Legend says that he saved himself, swimming ashore holding the manuscript of the still-unfinished epic Os Lusíadas.

Camões returned to Lisbon in 1570, where he published Os Lusíadas two years later. As a reward for this masterpiece as well as for the services in the Far East, the poet was given a small pension by King Sebastian of Portugal. Ten years later, on the eve of the Spaniard domination, Camões died at the age of 56. His tomb can be visited at the Hieronymites Monastery.

Camões gallery


  1. GraySpirit

    I always wondered about people like this, who so long ago managed to travel the world, engage in many adventures, and leave behind artistic works for the world to enjoy. I can only hope that my travels through Asia are as exciting … without the shipwrecks … lol.

    • clara

      They are really fascinating characters. Wish you all the best for your travels through Asia!

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