I did it! I finally finished The Lusiads.
When I discovered this Classic
Camões is a giant of Portuguese literature, and I studied excerpts of his work in high school.
Why I chose to read it
I came across a second-hand copy of an English translation of The Lusiads in Edinburgh’s wonderful Armchair Books. I’d just signed up to do the 2016 Classics Challenge, and it seemed like a good addition to my list.
What makes it a Classic
The Lusiads establishes the founding myths of Portugal, both in terms of the country’s beginnings, and the voyages of discovery which underpinned its empire. The poem was published barely a decade before Portugal was subsumed by the Spanish Empire, and would have been treasured as a reminder of times before a foreign yoke was imposed.
What I thought of this Classic (may contain spoilers)
I was initially disappointed to find that this translation was from verse into prose, as well as Portuguese into English. The note on the translation discusses this, arguing that the changes that must be made in order to retain the poetic form and rhythmn risk substantially changing the meaning of the poetry. Also unexpected was the interweaving of Greek mythology with the history of Da Gama’s voyage. I believe Camões was claiming that the Portuguese mariners deserved to be ranked with the heroes of antiquity, while also establishing his own claim as a great Renaissance writer. The mythological aspects seem odd to me, as they are juxtaposed with the Catholic orthodoxy of the mariners through most of the story. As a post-colonial reader, the blatant Imperialism on show here can be hard to read. The sacred mission (of civilisation, meaning conversion where possible) seems distasteful, and makes it hard to root for the heroes as Camões contemporaries may well have done.
Will it stay a Classic
Camões is the cornerstone of Portuguese literature. While he may remain obscure in translation, his place in Lusophone culture is assured.
Who I’d recommend it to
While not the easiest of reads, I would probably recommend it to anyone who likes reading myths and history.