Luis Vaz de Camoens was a Portuguese writer, best known for his epic poem, Os Lus’adas (1572), an epic work which celebrates Portuguese explorations and conquests, mainly those by Vasco de Gama, who sailed to India via Cape Verde. Carlyle referes to Camoens as an example of the sort of great talent lost in a world run by machinery.
Little definite is known about his life, since most of the information comes from a few sources or from conjecture based on his works. Probably born in Lisbon around 1525, Camoens managed throughout his life to amass a great knowledge of culture and philosophy, though theories that he studied at the University of Coimbra are unconfirmed. A love affair with someone at the royal court led to his exile in Morocco. Camoens returned briefly to Portugal, only to venture forth to India later in his life. For 17 years he travelled in the East, though very few records remain of his travels, and so his destinations cannot be pin-pointed. It seems, however that he also spent some time in China. Born into a floundering aristocracy, Camoens may have travelled to seek his fortunes or to serve the King. During his years away from Portugal he was part of several military expeditions which later influenced his work. Although it remains unclear when he started Os Lus’adas, he published it two years after his return to Portugal in 1570. Soon thereafter, he began to receive a royal pension, possibly as a mark of gratitude from the king for his work both on Os Lus’adas and in India. Following Vasco de Gama's journey to India, Camoens manages, in his most famous work, to weave together fact and mythology, involving the Greek gods while weaving together Gama's story and a complete Portuguese history.
Lamenting "were there any Camoens now to sing [the genius of the Cape]," Carlyle points not only to the loss of great genius, but also to the pity of not having such people to document the newest developments of society. Carlyle represents the "living artisan [who] is driven from his workshop," whose skill gets lost in a "Mechanical Age." Thus, society gives up art and the humanity of creation for the sake of speed and production. In this age, only results matter. Ironically, however, even as great advancements are made, as "the genius of the Cape...has again been alarmed, and with far stranger thunders than Gamas," no genius exists anymore to tell of it eloquently, there are not "any Camoens now to sing it."
"Lu’s de Cam›es." Encyclopedia Britannica online. Viewed 30 March 2009.
De Camoens, Luis. The Lusiad; Or, The Discovery of India. London: George Bell and Sons, 1877. vii - Xii.
Last modified 1 April 2009