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Camões-- the poet with two tombs and an unknown grave

Portugal's national Pantheon in Lisbon contains a magnificent tomb to the man considered to be the poet of the Portuguese expression. The name of Luís Vaz de Camões (1525-1580) is gilded on the tomb, but the inside is empty. Down river at the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery, built to celebrate the return of Vasco da Gama in 1498 from having discovered the sea route to Asia, is another Gothic and imposing tomb. It is next to the tomb of the great Argonaut--Da Gama himself - and it is to Camoes, who was a cousin of Da Gama's. It is also empty. Camões' 10-Canto epic poem, Os Lusíadas, combines the gods of mythology, the voyage of Vasco da Gama, and the poet's own life in a moving human drama that transcends naturalism and speaks to all humanity. Where he is actually buried is unknown.


Born in 1525, Camões died in obscurity in 1580.  The day he died is Portugal's national day. But many facts of his life are missing. He was born to a noble family either in Lisbon or Coimbra in 1524. His father was a sea captain, killed in a shipwreck. He certainly spent time in and studied at Coimbra, the university is mentioned fondly in his poems. His uncle was a monk at the Monastery of Santa Cruz. Camões knew that 12th century church well, as the resting place of Portugal's first two kings. But Camões was part of the Portuguese seaborne empire-building--from North Africa to India to China--and he lost an eye and an arm in service to his king. Camões got a small pension and lived in poverty. A statue to Camões rises above the square named for him in Lisbon's Chiado neighborhood. Recently restored, it was paid for by popular subscription. In it the god-like image of Camões is twice the size of the other poets and writers on the base ? giving him a height he never had in life.

Os Lusíadas was in essence a letter to the King Dom Sebastião, a plea to restore Portugal to the decency and glory of da Gama's day.  It is told that the poet read his poem to the king at the Royal Palace at Sintra in 1572. The king called his poem "adequate," and continued his plans to invade North Africa. Six years later, Sebastião led a massive army to Alcazar-quivir in Morocco and was crushed. Two years later, as Camões lay on his deathbed, a Spanish Army invaded and Portugal was occupied. The last known words of this poet, soldier, and dreamer were written a few days before his death, as the Spanish approached Lisbon. "All will see that so dear to me was my country that I was content to die not only in it but with it." He died June 10, 1580, as did the nation's independence for the next 60 years.


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