11 Jun 2024  |   07:21am IST

Luíz Vaz de Camões - a Portuguese poet whose legacy endures

Camões was a Portuguese poet and one of the greatest figures in Portuguese literature; he spent 15 years in Goa and beyond
Luíz Vaz de Camões - a Portuguese poet whose legacy endures


PANJIM: Portugal Day is the national day in Portugal and is celebrated annually on June 10.  It is also known as the Day of Portugal, Camões, and the Portuguese Communities (Dia de Portugal, de Camões e das Comunidades Portuguesas).

Luíz Vaz de Camões is a name that might ring a bell in many Goan minds, especially with a language institute named after him. 

However, it is fairly rare to find a person who knows the magnanimity of his works. According to Landeg White, a translator of Camões, he spent 15 years in Goa and beyond. 

Linguists say that his exile here was what made him the great poet he is known to have been. Camões was a Portuguese poet and one of the greatest figures in Portuguese literature.

He is considered as Portugal’s national poet. He lived during the Renaissance period, primarily in the 16th century, and is best known for his epic poem "OsLusíadas" (The Lusiads), which is considered Portugal's national epic.

Camões led an adventurous life, serving as a soldier in Africa and Asia and was the first great European poet to cross the equator. These paths he crossed during his journey of life, led him to gathering experiences that greatly influenced his writing. 

Through "OsLusíadas", Camões commemorates the Portuguese exploration of the sea route to India and the establishment of Portuguese colonies, including Goa while also celebrating Portugal's history, culture, and achievements. 

His poetry often reflects themes of love, heroism, patriotism, and the human condition. Camões' language is characterized by its richness, lyricism, and mastery of the Portuguese language. Despite his literary genius, Camões faced financial struggles and lived much of his life in poverty.

He came to Goa in 1553 on military service. The life of a regular soldado in Goa was not a luxurious one. In fact, many of them lived humble lives, which was no doubt, often the reason for them to turn one’s back against the Portuguese army and find better options in the armies of the Sultanates around the Estado da India. 

In their poor state of living, they led lives that were not very different from those of the locals around. Returning to Portugal in 1570, he lived in poverty and obscurity. His only blessing was his Goan lover named Barbara who cared for him in Lisbon until he breathed his last time. 

He died in 1580, and his work has since been celebrated and revered not only in Portugal but also around the world.

Somewhere in 1960 a huge copper alloy (bronze) statue of Camões had been erected in Old Goa. This statue was subsequently taken off by “freedom fighters” in 1980s when Portugal was celebrating the fourth centenary of Camões’ death.

The statue is now placed within the Archaeological Museum situated in Old Goa. Among many unconfirmed reports concerning his life are accounts that the poet was imprisoned in Goa and stranded in Mozambique, he lost an eye in battle at Morocco and swam from a shipwreck off the Cambodian coast, clinging to a copy of his epic poem, The Lusíads, which celebrates Vasco de Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India between 1497 and 1499.

West to the Igreja de Deus Espírito Santo in Margão, Goa stands the Civil and Criminal court. The older version of the court was built in 1777-78.  Until 1961, this building served as a jail (cadeia) with an attached police station. 

It was only post 1961, that the bigger new jail was built since crime increased.  According to folklore, Camões was imprisoned here for having written a derogatory critique of Portuguese officials then in Goa.  

Living in Panjim, he criticised local Portuguese officials and their rule. In one of his writings, he describes Goa as “the mother of villains and the stepmother of honest men”. Thus, infuriated viceroy Pedro Mascarenhas (1554-55) had Camões imprisoned.  Many believe that the poet was held in this prison in Margão, before he was dispatched to Macao in 1556. 

However, the current building is an 18th century construction, while Camões, if at all was incarcerated, would have been in the 16th century. This would have been in a building which may have existed before the current one, if the belief is factually correct. 


Iddhar Udhar