A locus for eccentrics (hopefully)

Monday, January 23, 2006

We just don't get it, do we?

This here's a portrait of Luis Vaz de Camoes, the enigmatic and revered figure on whom much of my thesis was based. You might be able to make out that he has no right eye--a result of fighting in Northern Africa while in the Portuguese army. He was well-bred, finding himself frequenting the king's courts and studying at some of the finest Universities that Portugal had to offer in the 16th century. He travelled the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, following much of the same route that Vasco da Gama took during his "voyage of discovery." Camoes, however, ran afoul of the reino in Goa, India, ostensibly for not having paid taxes owed to the crown. He was jailed and subsequently defamed until his eventual return to Portugal. There he presented the king with his masterpiece, Os Lusiadas. This epic poem was immediately well-received and has since become a cornerstone of the canon of Portuguese literature. Many things make this work so intriguing: its form, language, description, mythology, and nationalism all quickly come to mind. But perhaps most compelling is Camoes's "narrative within the narrative"; i.e., the infusion of his personal experiences with Africans, trade relations, and Arabs with the aforementioned imperialistic themes of this tome. The resultant work toes the line between bravado and compassion; between reckless imperialism and cautious expansion. Today it remains a testament to the inherent dangers faced in empire-building, and should probably be on the desks of our current foolhardy administration.

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