"...Who from the western Lusitanian shore
On seas never before navigated
Passing even beyond Taprobane..."

These verses, which should sound familiar to "Star Track" fans, are as a matter of fact part of "The Lusiads" which describes on both historical and mythological levels the discovery of the sea route to India by Vasco da Gama in 1498. Luis de Camões, the greatest figure in Portuguese literature, wrote this epic poem, which
was certainly inspired by Virgil and Aristotle, around 15??. Camões (1524-1580) was born into a family of reduced nobility on the very day that Da Gama, who was a distant relative of his, died. He had a classical education at the University of Coimbra and was a virile and joyous casanova. In his youth he fell in love with
a lady of the Lisbon court, Donna Caterina de Ataíde, to whom he wrote fiery love poems. It‚s also told that he had an infatuation with Princess Maria, daughter of Don Manuel the Fortunate.

Banished from the court, possibly because a flirtation with a woman of high rank, he was sent as a young soldier to Morocco, where he eventually lost an eye. When he returned to Lisbon, he was jailed for wounding a nobleman in a street fight and was released the next year after consenting to serve in India. For the next several years, he experienced alternate poverty and relative material comfort.

From India he was sent to Macau where he was given an official post. By then, he was already writing "The Lusiads." Charges of misadministration were brought against him, and he lost his position and was put on board a ship to Goa (India), which wrecked at sea. Traveling with him was his beloved Chinese mistress Dinamene. Legend tells that he let her sink with the ship, but managed to save "TheLusiads"manuscript. He spent the rest of his life writing lyrical sonnets to her, sonnets which today’s critics consider some of the loveliest ever written. These lyrics alone are sufficient in substantiating Camões as an authentic bard. When he was abroad, in addition to Dinamene, he had another affair with a
woman named Barbara, who seems to have been African and who he described as being "dark indeed" and "gentle in all ways" and "with sweet reason wellendowed."

After incarceration in Goa in 1567, he began the return trip to Portugal. He stopped in Mozambique, where he spent two years overcome with malady and survived on charity. There, his collection of long philosophical poems mysteriously vanished. This probably was the most distressing loss he suffered in his troubled existence as a poet. He finally reached Lisbon in 1570 after a sixteen-year absence, assisted by the generosity of friends. There was no appreciative welcome for Portugal's greatest poet in a capital that had just been visited by plague. Camões himself never profited much from the riches the colonies had promised. After his arrival in Lisbon, he lived on a small royal pension from the publication of his epic , a degree of recognition that no major poet could call fame, and a shower of critical abuse for enriching the language with numerous innovations.

According to folklore, he spent the rest of his evenings with fishermen and sailors in the waterfront taverns of Lisbon's Moraria, where he lived. He died penniless in 1580 and was buried in a mass grave along with other plague victims.

Camões doubts about the moral and practical validity of Portuguese colonialism in his day, and his vision of the tragic evils to come makes "The Lusiads" relevant not only to Portuguese history, but to the successes and failures of modern civilization.

Probably because he exchanged the vanity and frivolity of the Portuguese court for the hardships of exile, he had the opportunity to immeasurably enrich his poetic talent. So profound was the distress he experienced due to his exile from home that he was able to give SAUDADE (the yearning fraught with loneliness) a unique undertone in Portuguese literature. His best poems vibrate with an unmistakable note of agony and deep sincerity of feeling. It is this note that places him far above the other poets of his era.