by Luis de Camõens
trans. by William Julius Mickle
[1776, edition of 1877]
Columbus was a failure.
He utterly failed to accomplish what NASA would call his 'mission profile,' that is, to find a practical trade route to India. Of course, he did get the biggest consolation prize in history...
Vasco da Gama, who sailed from Portugal in 1498, however, succeeded in achieving Columbus' goal. He rounded the Cape of Good Hope and reached India. This accomplishment was memorialized shortly thereafter by this epic poem written by a Portuguese sailor, Luis de Camõens. Unless you were raised speaking Portuguese, it is unlikely you've heard of Camõens. However, if you were, you probably already know that he's considered the Portuguese Shakespeare, and the Lusiads the Portuguese national epic.
Although there have been several attempts to translate the Lusiads into English, none have been very successful until the 20th century. Notably, Richard Burton attempted a translation, but it has been universally criticized. Mickle's translation is provided here, not because it is of exceptional literary quality, but because it is in the public domain, and better than some of the rest. If you would like to read this poem casually, I recommend a modern translation such as Landeg White's (see box on right), or William Atkinsons' prose translation of 1972 (in the Penguin Classics).
Mickle employs ABAB couplets, where the original whereas Camõens used ottava rima, an ABABABCC form. He also took a few liberties with the text. In the most egregious case, he inserts a 300 line naval engagement which is not found in the original; he also omits an entire section where de Gama engages in questionable conduct. However, the editor of this, the 1877 edition, indicates these sections. Mickle's footnotes are worth consulting for the wealth of information on the classical references, as well as Portuguese history. However, some of his annotations must be taken with a grain of salt, particularly his five page footnote in book X where he deprecates Chinese culture, for no particular reason.
That said, Mickle is not entirely unreadable, and a thorough reading of this edition along with the apparatus is well worth the trouble. This is the first time a full English translation of the Lusiads has appeared on the Internet, to my knowledge--JBH.