Born in 1524 or 1525; died 10 June, 1580. Master-poet of Portuguese literature on account of his epic poem Os Lusiadas (The Lusiads) and his lyric poetry. A political and religious exile for most of his life, his self-destructive romanticism led to a historical mystique made for legends, while hard facts on details of his life are few. Camões was born of a reduced noble family, living in Coimbra, of the same stock as the noted explorer, Vasco da Gama. His father was a sea-captain who died at Goa in India as the result of a shipwreck, soon after the birth of Luiz. He attended the University of Coimbra and from this period some early love lyrics, Platonic of inspiration and Petrarchian in form, still survive. Passing after his schooling to the court at Lisbon, he in love with Catherina de Athaide, a lady of the queen's suite. Catherina (the 'Natercia' named in his poems, an anagram of Caterina) loved him as well, but the Royals opposed their love, and Camões, threatening a duel with the interloper during a drunken street brawl, was banished from the court (1545). Camões himself said in one of his sonnets, "em várias flamas variamente ardia" ("I burnt myself at many flames").
"For all your arrows tipped with poison / The curved daggers you bear as arms / Amorous Malays and valiant Javanese / All will be subject to the Portuguese." -- Luís Vaz de Camões, The Lusíads (trans. Landeg White, Oxford University Press, 1997)
Between 1546 - 1549, he fought in Morocco and lost his right eye when struck by cannon shrapnel. Recovering in Lisbon, he found himself alienated by the Court and his peers, and so in 'saudade'1, began a reckless 'disorderly' life. First, he wounded an officer in a duel, then being jailed for months and released March of 1553 only on condition he go to India as a soldier. Once in the East, his career in the Sind was dismal, at one time fighting natives, at the next moment jailed on charge of corruption while at diplomatic post in Macao. He wedded a native woman but was again overwhelmed with debt, and making many enemies with his 'too ready pen and tongue'. He travelled covertly as far as Malacca and the Moluccas2 during this period but finally, in 1567, he began to wind his way home to Portugal, only to be waylaid in Mozambique for two years, prey to disease and dire poverty, and only reaching Lisbon in 1570, after an absence of sixteen years. The city had just been visited by plague and was governed by a heedless monarch, Dom Sebastian; yet Camões dedicated Os Lusiadas3 to him and was rewarded with a meagre royal pension. His mother, a widow, survived him and had the pension renewed in her name after his death in 1580 of premature old age brought on by illnesses and hardships.
Sources :
1. The Catholic Encyclopaedia, Volume III (1908)
2. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1995. v.2, p. 769. c.2.
3. Burton, Richard Francis, Sir, 1821-1890. Camoens : his life and his Lusiads : a commentary4 / in two volumes (London : Bernard Quaritch, 1881)
Notes :
1 No English equivalent, a Portuguese word meaning a mixture of melancholy and spiritual longing; the anguish he experienced because of his exile from home and the trials he underwent in the East, feelings which enabled him to give to "yearning fraught with loneliness," an undertone unique in Portuguese literature.
2 While in the East, he took part in one or two military naval expeditions and was at one point shipwrecked in the Mekong Delta.
3 In the poem, Venus acts as the friend of the wandering Portuguese while Bacchus is their enemy; Mars, Jupiter, and deities of the sea and other Gods play with the fortunes of Vasco da Gama's nautical expedition along the African coast to Mombaca and Melinde, on to Calcutta in India, and back again over the ocean to Portugal. The chief edition of The Lusiads is that of 1572, prepared by the poet himself, later edited by Burton, who clearly felt a kinship to the man.
4Dr. Manuel Luciano da Silva wrote (incorrectly) that Portugal and Greece were the only nations who wrote the history of their own country in epic verses; Portugal's poet being Camões and Greece's being Homer in The Odyssey. Add Vergil's Aeneid, Pope's The Dunciad and some early Arab epics to that list and you might be creeping closer to the truth.

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