Front Page Titles (by Subject) 67.: On Camoëns' Lusiads - Judgments on History and Historians
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67.: On Camoëns’ Lusiads - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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On Camoëns’ Lusiads
Camoëns was a great poet, full of passion for his cause, and was entitled to give form to the heroic story of Portugal.
His cast of thought and enthusiasm are such and so suffuse the Lusiads from beginning to end that the colorful and curiously composed work seems all of a piece. And Camoëns wrote at a time when the whole strength that he apotheosizes was still alive.
The entire epic is evenly permeated with the glory of Portugal and with patriotism, as a force still alive, not merely in retrospect, as with Italian epics about Scipio and the like. On the whole, everything has a purpose, something that had long since been impossible in Italy.
It must be of great value to Portuguese families to be named in Camoëns. In Vasco da Gama’s expedition he comprises all of Portuguese history, previous and subsequent, in three great episodes: first, the kings before the lord of Melinde; then, the picture gallery of the heroes and generals on the boat; and finally, in the speech of Thetis, the discoverers, the viceroys, and others. It is an encyclopedia of glory, possessing which a real Portuguese can do without all the other literature of his country. Every poetic and universally human feature that is salvageable has been preserved in the Lusiads.
It is a unique thing in literary history that here, in a historical rather than a semi-mythical period, there speaks a man who, in his person, is entirely a kindred spirit to his heroes and has had the amplest share in their battles, privations, and victories. Camoëns is accustomed to dealing blows to Mohammedans and Malabar Indians, probably fighting one against ten. No dust from the road whirls in his poem, but the salt of the sea; it is life on shipboard, sinewy, severely simple, fine-blooded, replete with martial fervor to the point of extreme fanaticism. It, too, is austere. Nothing but the roaring of the sea and the clangor of arms is audible.
He repeatedly voices profound complaints about his nation’s harsh, austere insensitivity to poetry; it is still wholly caught up in acting and acquiring and is not yet ready to listen. And yet he expressed its feeling clearly and completely at a time which still tolerated true feeling. And only today, when people talk much more about poetry, would he be completely lost; the cities would either ignore him or seize upon his palpable imperfections and finish him off.
Camoëns still satisfied the best of his times and of his nation. There is no longer any satisfying the best of our times!
Os Lusiades, the Lusitanians! It is the whole glory of the nation, but simply more or less loosely tied onto one central point, the voyage of Vasco da Gama.
To portray each of da Gama’s colleagues individually would have been not only superfluous but impossible, since every time the same Portuguese hero would have emerged. The composition of the epic as a whole is completely sui generis.
Camoëns utilizes the old world of the gods, to be sure, without having any ideas of whom he is dealing with.
About the Spaniards he is almost completely silent.
Further, he expresses his thought not only in the actions and speeches of his heroes, but also directly, and these passages are among the most powerful. The erstwhile lyric poet becomes a Jeremiah and prophet against the mighty, the courtiers, fawners, epicureans, even against wicked priests. At the end he addresses a very earnest exhortation to Don Sebastian to seek for the tremendously brave and devoted nation more liberal laws and better ministers. He offers himself to Alexander as an adviser on the expedition to Africa.
Camoëns is not a poet for an entire civilized world, as was Homer. The culture of all later times does depend on Greek, but not on Portuguese, culture. Also, he is not for all moods, but national, narrow, obtrusive! But he was of inestimable value to a nation sentenced to early, undeserved bondage.
A national drama was not granted to this nation. But before the Spanish conquest Camoëns compressed all the stirring moments of its great history into his Lusiads.
Perhaps the epic had an invisible and yet substantial share in the uprising against the Spaniards in 1640.