22 November: Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope on this day in 1497

An inscription on the façade of a well-known building in Rome proclaims that the Italians are a nation of saints, poets and explorers. Similarly, we find the statues of Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu Dias standing proud on the Monument of Discoveries in Lisbon. But what about the poets? The category is represented by a certain Luís Vaz de Camões who created the myth of the sea explorer, capable of such feats as rounding the Cape of Good Hope aided by the Monsoon winds.

Yet, whereas when Vasco da Gama returned home the title of “Dom” was bestowed on him and he was appointed Viceroy of India, with all the perks and privileges that came with the title, the poet didn’t receive the same treatment. Indeed, it was another Portuguese poet, Nobel Prize winner José Saramago who, with a mixture of despair and irony, described the destiny of poets. In his comedy play “What Will I Do With This Book?” he tells us that after seventeen years spent in India and Mozambique, Luís Vaz de Camões returns home, enthusiastically intent on publishing his book. Here he is not only scorned by the ignorant, but also has to suffer the indifference of the then king (Saramago himself mentioned this during his speech at the Nobel Prize ceremony). Ultimately, Camões’ poem “The Lusiads” ended up by becoming Portugal’s equivalent of the “Aeneid”, which is why even an unproductive man of letters was able to win himself a rightful place on the monument that stretches out onto the ocean.

If the main storyline is like a lighthouse which instils hope in our heroes, you can be sure there’s always also a subplot lurking in its shadows. This particular subplot teaches us that hope never dies – which goes for everyone, poets included.

Name Day:
St Cecilia