Portuguese literature was formed on the basis of a single, unified geographical space, namely the Portuguese territory, although it was later to spread to various parts of the world as a consequence of the Portuguese maritime discoveries in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This great adventure resulted in an extremely rich travel literature and was responsible for the expansion of the national language.
To English speakers, the most famous writer in the Portuguese language is the poet luvs vaz de Camoes or Luvs Vaz Camoens (1524-June 10, 1580), author of the epic poem, Lusiad.
Several other authors and poets are also internationally known, such as: Ena de Queiros (1845-1900), one of the most famous Portuguese language novelists; Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), one of the greatest poets in the history of the language; Jorge Amado (1912-2001), a popular novelist; and Jose Saramago (born 1922) who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998.
Literature in the Portuguese language first emerged in lyric poetry, the love poems collected in cancioneiros (song books). The early poems were greatly influenced by the Provençal language and literature, but they had the individual flavour of Portuguese and Galician, then a dialect of Portuguese.
Prose writing took longer to develop. Religious and historical writings ultimately led to the romances of chivalry, the progenitor of which, Amadis of Gaul, most likely originated in Portugal. Among the greatest achievements of medieval Portuguese prose are the vivid and well-documented chronicles written by Fernão Lopes (c.1380-c.1460) and Gomes Eanes de Zurara (c.1420-c.1474). Portuguese poetry in the 15th century was marked by the influence of Spain, which can be seen in Garcia de Resende's collection, Cancioneiro geral (1516).
The Renaissance produced numerous distinguished poets, historians, critics, antiquaries, theologians, and moralists which made the sixteenth century a golden age.
The best prose work of the sixteenth century is devoted to history and travel. João de Barros in his "Decadas", continued by Diogo do Couto, described with mastery the deeds achieved by the Portuguese in the discovery and conquest of the lands and seas of the Orient. Damião de Goes, humanist and friend of Erasmus, wrote with rare independence on the reign of King Manuel the Fortunate. Bishop Osorio treated of the same subject in Latin, but his interesting "Cartas" are in the vulgar tongue. Among others who dealt with the East are Castanheda, Antonio Galvão, Gaspar Correia, Bras de Albuquerque, Frei Gaspar da Cruz, and Frei João dos Santos.
Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
The 18th century developed gradually into the literary revolution that was the romantic movement. Liberal ideas from abroad invaded every branch of letters and learning. João B. de Almeida Garrett, the chief exponent of French-inspired romanticism, exercised great influence over a generation of poets, playwrights, and novelists.
A group of dissident poets, including Antero de Quental, Téofilo Braga, and Abílio Manuel Guerra Junqueiro, revolted against romanticism and laced their works with philosophical and social ideas. José Maria Eça de Queiroz introduced realism into the novel and set the tone for the next half century. Historiography, of a more narrative than scientific sort, flourished at the same time. Joaquim P. de Oliveira Martins was one of the more popular writers of this genre.
The Twentieth Century
The modern period in Portuguese letters dates from the establishment of the republic in 1910.Later writing became more sensitive to developments in other countries. Fernando Pessoa, largely unrecognized during his lifetime, would be acclaimed later as the greatest modern Portuguese poet, and José Régio distinguished himself as a poet and playwright.
In the early 1970s Portuguese literary circles were shaken by the publication of a volume of collected notes, stories, letters, and poems by Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta, and Maria Velho da Costa. Banned because of its erotic and feminist nature, the book was allowed to circulate after the collapse of the Salazar dictatorship in Apr., 1974.
The late 20th cent. has also seen the rise of Portuguese literature in Africa: in Angola, the poet Agostinho Neto and the novelist Luadino Vieira; in Mozambique, the novelist Luís Bernardo Howana; in Cape Verde, the novelists Manuel Lopes, Orlanda Amarilis, and Manuel Ferreira.