A Postcolonial Ulysses in the Lusophone World

by Lisandra Silva e Sousa (Author)
©2020 Monographs VI, 188 Pages


This book investigates the spaces of interaction between Portuguese and Brazilian modernists—specifically Oswald de Andrade, Augusto de Campos and Haroldo de Campos, Ronald de Carvalho, António Ferro, Fernando Pessoa, Mário de Sá-Carneiro—and their interpretation of nation. Most importantly, the way in which their work echoes and transfigures the Ulysses myth, to be termed Portuguese Ulyssism by Brazilian Gilberto Freyre in his reading of Luís Vaz de Camões’s epic poem The Lusiads, is analyzed, underlining the presence of a postcolonial Ulysses in the Lusophone world. The trope of the shipwreck is central to the creative production of these Atlantic modernists who, outside of their respective national literatures, interact beyond the territories of nation-states through texts on exile, national identity, and colonialism.
In addition to the renowned The Lusiads, the texts studied include two issues of the Luso-Brazilian quarterly Orpheu (1915) and António Ferro’s contributions to Brazil’s Klaxon (1922, in celebration of the centenary of Brazil’s political independence from Portugal); Oswald de Andrade’s Anthropophagic Manifesto (1928) and an unpublished letter to Ferro; Fernando Pessoa’s poem "Ulysses" in Message (1934); and Haroldo de Campos’s Galaxies (1984) and "Finismundo: The Last Voyage" (1997). In A Postcolonial Ulysses in the Lusophone World, relocations and transfigurations of the Ulysses myth inform a dialogue between the modernists of Portugal and Brazil through texts on exile, national identity, and colonialism.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1 A Mute Hero Called Ulysses and the Nation in Modernity
  • 2 Fernando Pessoa’s Heteronyms: A Nationhood of ‘Invisible Translators’
  • 3 Brazilian Modernists, Portuguese Modernists, and Their Spaces of Interaction
  • 4 The Anthropophagic Agenda of Modernism in the Work of Haroldo and Augusto de
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography


This study examines interactions between Portugal’s and Brazil’s Modernisms, which are generally studied separately from the perspective of national literatures, to investigate the ongoing dialogue between Portuguese and Brazilian Modernists. My research argues that certain publications, including Orpheu—the quarterly magazine which Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) was both a director of and contributor to—create a space of interaction between the Modernisms of Portugal and postcolonial Brazil. Dialogue in the two landmark issues of the Luso-Brazilian Orpheu, launched in 1915, mark the beginning of Brazil’s Modernism and express the fierce attempts of young poets gathered around Pessoa to destabilize the historicism of the nation and discourses of cultural homogeneity of Portuguese Modernism. For, as it says, ‘nossa intenção é formar, em grupo ou ideia, um número escolhido de revelações em pensamento ou arte, que sobre este principio aristocratico tenham em ORPHEU o seu ideal esotérico e bem nosso de nos sentirmos e conhecermo-nos’ [our intention is to form, in group or idea, a chosen number of revelations in thought or art, that in this aristocratic principle have in ORPHEU their esoteric ideal and ours to feel and know ourselves], in order ultimately to change conceptions of art in Portugal and Brazil (Orpheu 1). The study thus argues that Portugal’s Modernism, in this Lusophone dialogue, in fact disrupts the center-periphery binary and reveals the double-writing of the nation.

←1 | 2→

Arnaldo Saraiva’s work details correspondences between Portuguese and Brazilian modernists. This work, of undeniable value in terms of primary sources, lays an important foundation for this comparative study. This study aims towards a more analytical study, moving beyond an historical and aesthetical interpretation of the two Modernisms in order to investigate the interactions, including the differences, between Portugal’s and Brazil’s Modernisms. This investigation also provides insights into the contribution and role of one of Orpheu’s ‘exiled art temperaments’, Ronald de Carvalho (1893–1935). De Carvalho was a Rio-born poet and Brazilian Ambassador to Lisbon who contributed to both Orpheu and Brazil’s equally groundbreaking Semana de Arte Moderna/Week of Modern Art, which, in São Paulo in 1922, launched the country’s Modernism in the centenary year of Brazil’s political independence from Portugal. This study analysis de Carvalho’s work to explore his 1922 concept of liberdade criadora [creative freedom]. De Carvalho’s poems are, according to Pessoa, ‘suaves e doentios’ [gentle and infirm], Pessoa adding that the poet himself is ‘um dos mais interessantes e nossos dos poetas brasileiros de hoje’ [one of the most interesting and ours of contemporary Brazilian poets] (Pessoa in Saraiva 2004: 534). My examination will also correlate Brazilian emancipatory discourses on the colonial mentality with Pessoa’s meditations in Os Portugueses/The Portuguese (1928) on Portugal’s ‘mental tragedy of provincialism’, whilst looking at Pessoa’s perception of ambivalence in the images projected by Portugal’s cultural and territorial project abroad.

Why the Ulysses Myth?

The myth of Ulysses is an inherited one in Western culture and, in the case of Portuguese-speaking nations, it is a foundational myth that Fernando Pessoa and the brothers Augusto and Haroldo de Campos reveal as a colonial construct.

The tragic Greek hero has been part of the Portuguese imaginary from the country’s formation as a nation. According to a legend based on (false) etymology, Ulysses discovered Lisbon—the city bearing his ancient Latin name of Olisipona or Ulixibona—whilst on his odyssey through the Mediterranean and after trespassing Hercules’s imposed markers westwards in Dante’s Inferno. Ulysses reappears in the Portuguese epic Os Lusíadas in the sixteenth century (1572), a work highly influenced by the European culture of the Renaissance but rooted in the context of the maritime expansion of Portugal. Luís Vaz de Camões’s epic describes Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India and his encounters with numerous obstacles and hardships in the New World, thus relocating Homer’s The Illiad and ←2 | 3→The Odyssey, and, in particular, Virgil’s The Aeneid. The myth of Ulysses combines with the subject of Portuguese colonial dispersal throughout the world to form the focus of Camões’s epic, whose characters are split into two archetypes: Ulysses—nationals with diasporic identities—and the Old Man of Restelo, who represents the arguments of the settled identities of the nation against the Portuguese global diaspora.

The relationship between Ulysses and Lisbon is central in Os Lusíadas, as ‘Ulysses figures first in a line-up of Lusitanian heroes whose images appear painted on silken banners’ (Stevens 2001: 35). Dana Shaw Stevens delineates the role given to Ulysses in Os Lusíadas despite his being, according to the critic, ‘an anomaly’ (a displacement) that becomes the centre of the work:

the apparent anomaly of Ulysses’s appearance at the start of what is to be a pantheon of Portuguese historical figures (poems dedicated to such figures as Viriato, the ‘barbaric’ forefather of the Lusitan tribe, a sort of Portuguese Vercingetorix; Dom Afonso Henriques, the first Portuguese King; King Henry the Navigator; the explorer Diogo Cão, etc.)—an anomaly which in Camões goes unremarked—becomes here the very focus of the poem itself. (Stevens 2001: 35–36)

Ulysses is indeed the very focus of the poem itself, as part of a pantheon of Portuguese historical figures and heroes of the Portuguese ‘collective imagination’ (Mattoso 2008: 35). He is an icon of their departure from ‘[Portugal’s] ocidental praia Lusitana’ [Western Lusitanian beach], by ‘mares nunca de antes navegados’ [seas never before navigated] for their foundation of a ‘Novo Reino’ [New Kingdom] (Camões 1572: 43). In Canto II, the speaker nostalgically recalls Portugal’s ‘memórias gloriosas’ [glorious memories] and bygone ‘obras valerosas’ [valuable works] in order to introduce the Portuguese Ulysses in Canto I: 3:

Cessem do sábio Grego e do Troiano

As navegações grandes que fizeram;

Cale-se de Alexandre e de Trajano

A fama das victórias que tiveram;

Que eu canto o peito ilustre Lusitano,

A quem Neptuno e Marte obedeceram.

Cesse tudo o que a Musa antiga canta,

Que outro valor mais alto se alevanta. (Camões 1572: 44)

‘Sábio Grego’ and ‘Tróiano’ are Homer’s Ulysses and Virgil’s Aeneas. According to the speaker, Ulysses is a personification of the ‘ilustre Lusitano’ [Noble Lu←3 | 4→sitanian] who, standing with the collective Lusitanian navigators, represents the first Portuguese imagined community (see Benedict Anderson’s concept, below).

Camões’s epic poem celebrates the Portuguese language, in keeping with European notions of nationhood in the Renaissance period, whilst the Portuguese were scattering across the globe during their maritime quest. The Portuguese Ulysses, represented by da Gama, was the first major European to ‘discover’ the tropics and Orient by trespassing all the signs prohibiting this and also all knowledge of the time, voyaging towards knowledge of a new world. The discoveries attached to da Gama’s explorations are much more than a sixteenth-century maritime tour from Lisbon to India. As Landeg White says:

the confirmation by the late fifteenth century Europeans that the world was much larger than the Mediterranean basin with parts of the east attached was matched a century later by proof that the earth was not the centre of the universe … Both discoveries posed a challenge to existing beliefs from which the world, in and beyond Europe, is still recovering. (White 1997: int. x)

Thus The Lusiads, in comparison to The Odyssey, dramatizes the voyages of the (Greek) Ulysses and Aeneas as cultural events, narrates the Portuguese as the first nation to connect the world by sea, and voices the dispersal of a nation that refused to become voiceless. (For soon after Camões’s death, on 10 June 1580, the Portuguese throne passed to Philip II of Spain and Portugal lost its independence.)

Portugal’s loss of independence followed the disappearance of D. Sebastian after the battle of Alcácer-Quibir in 1578, a disappearance that has become a messianic myth in Portuguese culture, the so-called Sebastianism. The latter acquires different connotations throughout time, and it carries some resemblance to the Ulysses myth. A critique of it is seen, for example, in Almeida Garret’s play Frei Luís de Sousa, in which the ‘encoberto’ King of Portugal (in this play in beggar’s clothes, like the Homeric Ulysses, after being away for twenty-one years) returns to Portugal in order to rescue the nation and thus fulfil the Fifth Empire (in Chapter 1). In Garret’s play, a hypothetical return of D. Sebastian has dramatic consequences as the family falls apart, and one character dies. The play explores the negative consequences of a return to a Sebastian past.

This study argues that Pessoa, aware of Sebastianismo and the myth of the Fifth Empire in Portuguese Romanticism (also present in the popular poetry of Gonçalo Annes Bandarra, as Pessoa asserts), writes Mensagem/Message in order to displace the historicism of this myth and of the nation. Pessoa recreates the myth in his poem ‘Quinto Império’, the fifth era of the nation comes after ←4 | 5→Greece, Rome, Christianity, and Europe—the old empires of the past—in order to uncover a project of language and culture in Portuguese. In this sense, Pessoa’s Ulysses in Mensagem stems from the idea of decadence already present in Camões’s epic and recast by Padre António Vieira as the millenarian basis for a universal empire (Chapter 1). Pessoa opens spaces of dialogue and interaction across time and places and displaces the return of an Ulyssian-like king-messiah.


VI, 188
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. VI, 188 pp.

Biographical notes

Lisandra Silva e Sousa (Author)

Lisandra D. Silva e Sousa holds a PhD in Iberian and Latin American studies from Queen Mary University of London and is a sessional lecturer in English and Spanish at The King’s University, Canada. Her doctorate was fully funded by the Portuguese Fundação da Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT). Lisandra is also a member of the Centre for English, Translation, and Anglo-Portuguese Studies (CETAPS) at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal.


Title: A Postcolonial Ulysses in the Lusophone World
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196 pages