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António Vieira and the Cult of the Lost King


This is the 400th anniversary of the birth of the Jesuit poet, António Vieira (1608 - 1697). Vieira is credited for taking the myth of a dead king and giving it new life.

He wrote of a new millennium in which Portugal's lost king would return to the world. For that, he was condemned by the Portuguese Inquisition, forbidden to preach, and kept a prisoner for three years.

The Legend of Dom Sebastião is a prominent theme in Portuguese culture and literature. As we said above, Sebastião was the young king that many hoped would restore the nation. But Sebastião wanted to lead a crusade, not a commercial empire. He invaded Moroccan territory and was totally defeated. He never returned, though no one ever saw the king fall in battle.  Back in Portugal, hope rose that he would return and save Portugal from what became 60 years of domination by Spain.  The legend grew--the king would return on a foggy morning and reclaim his throne.  Over the years, many came to shore claiming to be him.  The king--as a youth and as an old man--is a powerful image in Portugal to this day.

At Lisbon's Museum of Ancient Art, you can see a painting of the lost king with your own eyes.  In it, the king, not long before his final battle, looks too young, and awkward in his gilded armor. His left hand clutches a sword; a dog licks his other hand. His red hair, empty eye, and puckered mouth make him look insane.


That image would be one of the most powerful in the poetry of Pessoa in Mensagem:

"Mad, yes, mad for wanting greatness

The type that Luck does not give.

Without insanity what is man?

Nothing more than a sadistic beast,

An advanced cadaver that procreates?"


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