Classical Literature in Portugal
Starting in the early 13th century and into the 14th century, Portuguese literature was centered on poetry. These poems usually covered topics such as romance and what they called “songs of personal insult.” Sometimes scholars mistake “songs of personal insult” for satire, but this is not the case. By the 16th century, the common people were composing ballads of their own, not found in court. The main body of these works was written about topics such as chivalry, war, the sea, adventure, and religious legends. The vast majority of literature produced during this period was prose and poetry. Some of the noted authors of prose were King John I, Fernao Lopez, Azurara, and Ruy de Pina. The poetry during this phase was dominated by Spanish verse. Much of it was actually written in Castillian and featured authors such as Garcia de Resende. Many of Resende’s works were inspired by people such as Juan de Mina and Jorge Manrique. These poets and authors were heavily influenced by the literature coming out of Spain at the time.
The 16th century was also the beginning of the Renaissance phase of literature among the nobility. The 16th century is considered by many literary historians to be a golden age for Portuguese literature. It was heavily influenced by the Italian style of writing. Sa de Miranda is credited with introducing changes to Portuguese literature during this period of time. He raised the tone of poetry at that time. He also introduced major changes to the style of classical plays during this time period.
The 17th century marked the beginning of the second classical phase called the Baroque Phase. Its literature was generally inferior to that of the previous phase. Historians blame the lack of literature actually written in Portuguese as authors among the nobility preferred to write in Spanish. They also blame major upheavals such as the inquisition and the Portuguese Revolution. This century did have a better amount of prose than the previous century. Historical accounts, biographies, sermons, and church-related correspondence flourished during this century.
The third phase of classical literature is called Neo-Classism and began in the early 18th century. This phase was marked largely by the introduction of Academies of Literature and Arcadias. In 1720, King John V established The Academy of History. The academy published fifteen volumes of ‘memoirs’ and laid the foundations for a critical study on the annals of Portugal. In 1780, the Royal Academy of Sciences continued the work and put literary criticism on a more solid basis. This would lead to an overall improvement in Portuguese Literature. The Arcadias had more influence on literature than the Academies did. The Arcadia, established in 1756 by the poet Cruz de Silva, was the most important and was called the Arcadia Ulisiponense. This Arcadia included the most considered writers of this time period.