Thursday, June 10, 2010


Happy Portugal Day!

Or, Happy—as it is known there—Dia de Camoes. The national holiday is named in honor of Luis de Camoes, that country’s national poet (June 10th, 1580, is the date of his death; his birthday is unknown), a kick-ass sonneteer but most famed as author of The Lusiads (Os Lusiadas).

This rather marvelous work, too little-known outside of Portugal, retells (& whitewashes) the voyage of Vasco de Gama in search of a trade route to India in the manner of a Homeric or Virgilian mythic odyssey.


Monster-of-the-Week: …this week there can surely be no other choice but Adamastor, the terrifying sea-giant that Vasco de Gama & his lads encounter off the southern end of Africa, a personification of the frightful weather at the Cape of Good Hope.

Camoes gives Adamastor a pretty chilling entrance, as he rises up before them:

…when rising through the darken’d air,
Appall’d, we saw a hideous phantom glare;
High and enormous o’er the flood he tower’d,
And ’thwart our way with sullen aspect lower’d
An earthy paleness o’er his cheeks was spread,
Erect uprose his hairs of wither’d red;
Writhing to speak, his sable lips disclose,
Sharp and disjoin’d, his gnashing teeth’s blue rows;
His haggard beard How’d quiv’ring on the wind,
Revenge and horror in his mien combin’d;
His clouded front, by with’ring lightnings scar’d,
The inward anguish of his soul declar’d.
His red eyes, glowing from their dusky caves,
Shot livid fires: far echoing o’er the waves
His voice resounded, as the cavern’d shore
With hollow groan repeats the tempest’s roar.
Cold gliding horrors thrill’d each hero’s breast,
Our bristling hair and tott’ring knees confess’d
Wild dread, the while with visage ghastly wan,
His black lips trembling, thus the fiend began…

(from an 18th-Century English translation)

The beastie goes on to bellow extravagant threats of watery doom to the explorers for having the nerve to sail where the Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians, never dared, etc. etc. You get the idea: Portuguese Guys Have Big Brass Ones. Then we get Adamastor’s unhappy backstory: he ended up in this desolate cape because he was tricked by a sea-nymph into embracing it—she made the mountain look to him like another sea-nymph for whom he had a serious lech. Perhaps understandably, he’s been in a bad mood ever since.

Here’s a statue of Adamastor in Lisbon:

The little dude on the lower left is presumably the not-to-be-deterred Vasco de Gama himself.

Maybe it’s time for some 21st-Century epic poet to tell the story of Petroleumastor, Adamastor’s oily cousin, loosed on the Gulf of Mexico to punish the greed & short-sightedness of the Gulf's profaners…

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