THE LITERARY AND CULTURAL RESONANCES OF THE MYTH OF HENRY: THE LUSIADS AND PILGRIMAGE.

Author:Soares, Maria Luisa de Castro
  1. The Portuguese mythogenesis and the myth of Henry

    The following transcriptions of the works of three Portuguese Poets are the motto of the present work:

    "We seek nothing less than the impossible" (Vicente 1524). (1) "The Sea, in the perpetual movement of its waves, is the realm of Desire. Here, the ecstatic spiritual recollection that wants to be the very thing remembered or evoked in the flesh. At sea, the spirit materializes itself for the Fight" (Pascoaes 1913). "Old Seamen had a splendid phrase: "To sail is necessary; to live is unnecessary" (Pessoa 2013). (2) Reflecting about oneself and asking what it means to be human are processes as old as humanity itself. Our capacity to think allows us to consider ourselves in our 'operational closure' (Maturana and Varela 2007) and our openness to the world. Human's existence unfolds in a space between two poles, the real and the possible, and it is oriented by an existential, rational and mythic consciousness.

    According to Manuel Antunes, a prominent Jesuit essayist, the mythic consciousness "expresses the essence of Man, because all the affirmations of transcendence arise from it, because it designates the supreme instance regulating the equilibrium of Man [...], in sum, because it allows reason to come into being" (Antunes 1966-1967: 87).

    Myths and the Portuguese mythogenesis are associated with reason because they are ways of making sense of the world. As such, they have a 'psychological and collective' function as well as an important 'compensatory function', particularly in unfavourable historical moments. Thus, myths are created in a context of decadence through regenerative impulses, as true forms of resistance to adversity (Soares 2007). For example, the legend of the battle of Ourique and the sebastianic myth are examples of this. The "Portuguese mythogenesis contains its own energy, transcends historical events; even if it does not generate these events it may stimulate and nourish them" (Quadros 1989: 50).

    Antonio Quadros, a Portuguese philosopher of the 20th century, who defends the specificity of the Portuguese cultures and identity (Quadros 1983: 129-130; Quadros 1989: 50), postulated the existence of five myths that constitute the Portuguese mythogenesis. These have been recurrent themes throughout the history of Portuguese literature and culture, and they form the foundation of 'Portuguese thought' (Quadros 1983: 129-130). The existence of a Portuguese thought is fundamental for the identity of the Portuguese as a people and it implies a relation between self and Other, since identity can only be established when otherness is recognized. Thus, the construction of the identity is not a matter of closure but rather it implies certain openness to relativity, exoticism and difference, essential to a proper examination of the self. According to Antonio Quadros, the Portuguese being is based on the following mythologems, which have always been present in the Portuguese literature: the sublimation of women, the everlasting love, the providentialism of Portuguese history, the Hidden One and the Henryism (Quadros 1983: 129-130).

  2. The myth of Henry in Portuguese culture: the role of the discoveries to its consolidation

    The myth of Henry or Henryism relates to the theme of the journey in Portuguese literature and travel writing, from the age of discoveries, and it has oriented the axiological perspective of the Portuguese culture since then, being the object of constant study and discussion. The Orient was known only through stories of the silk-road and the narrative of the Venetian Marco Polo (Graca 1993), but the descriptions of Polo did not become a myth for his respective culture, as he was not a pioneer in the creation and circumstances of said route. Besides, it is unquestionable that the motif of the voyage is pervasive across western literature (some major figures come to mind like Christopher Columbus and Captain Cook). However, it is to Portugal that we owe the discovery of the maritime route from the West to the East. The Portuguese "were effectively the first of many European who grafted themselves onto a pre-existing Afro-Asian trading network" (Klein 2013: 163) and the description of discovery of the maritime road to India in The Lusiads (Camoes 1880, 2000) contributed to the creation of the "collective, historical memory of Portugal as the head of Europe" (Blackmore 2009: 46-47). The discovery of the maritime road to India is the common designation for the first trip done from Europe to India via the Atlantic Ocean, under the command of Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama. Vasco da Gama's fleet left Lisbon in July 1497 and arrived in Calicut in May 1498, as Camoes explains in the epic poem The Lusiads, where the Cape of Storms (later called Cape of Good Hope) appears as the giant Adamastor (canto V), a symbol of ideology of maritime empire and also of geographical and nautical limits (Blackmore 2009: 144-46), of great dangers of the sea:

    "These words I ended not, when saw we rise / a shape in air, enormous, sore the view o'it: / a form disform of a giant size; / frowned its face; the long beard squalid grew o'it / its mien dire menacing: its cavern'd eyes / glared ghastly'mid the mouldy muddy hue o'it; / stained a clayey load its crispy hair / and coal-black lips its yellow tusks lay bare" (V. 39.1-8) (Camoes 1880). (Nao acabava, quando uafigura /Se nos mostra no ar, robusta e valida, / De disforme e grandissima estatura; / O rosto carregado, a barba esqualida, / Os olhos encovados, e a postura / Medonha e ma e a cor terrena e palida / Cheios de terra e crespos os cabelos, /A boca negra, os dentes amarelos) (V. 39.1-8) (Camoes 2000). In fact, the overcoming of the physical obstacles that sea travel entails is the central topic of the Carta a El-Rei Dom Manuel Sobre o Achamento do Brasil (published in the 15th century, in the year of 1500) (Caminha 1974), The Lusiads (published in the 16th century, in 1572), Pilgrimage (published in the 17th century) (Pinto 2001), and the Historia Tragico-Maritima (published in the 18th century). We can say that the sea journey (Henryism) has influenced the collective subconscious of the Portuguese, perhaps because "Portugal created the first global empire" (Crowley 2016), as The Lusiads make plain by bookending its tale with claims on how the Portuguese were pioneers of the sea. Therefore, this idea is insistently repeated throughout The Lusiads, from its beginning to the end, from canto I [e.g., canto I. 1.: "Who o'er the waters ne'er by seaman crost" (Por mares nunca de antes navegados); canto I. 27.3: By paths unused, and holding nought in fear (Por vias nunca usadas, nao temendo)] to canto X (e.g., X. 138.3: "That opened Ocean-portals patent-free"; e.g. Abrindo [os Portugueses] a porta ao vasto mar patente).

    The mythologem of Henry had already been outlined in the Celtic legends, gained a concrete expression with the Portuguese Discoveries, the naval and transoceanic experience, incarnated in the figure of the Henry The Navigator (also named the Infant of Sagres) (Russel 2000), and has been recurrently been given new life until now via the motif of the journey, such as the emigration and the diastole-systole movement of "seeking who we are / at a distance from us", described by Fernando Pessoa in "Night", a poem from The Message about "Maritime and aquatic imagination" (Mendes n.d.: 299). This mythologem unfolds alongside the themes of nostalgic vocation of the impossible (Durand 1986: 9-21) and Nostalgia (Saudade), inseparable from the concept of distance, which the notion of the journey naturally evokes.

    The theme of the journey, or Henryism, assumes importance in terms of Portuguese identity and the threads with which this identity was woven were spun during the golden period of Portuguese culture, in the 15th-16th centuries, during the period of the Discoveries and Maritime Expansion. The mill that spun this yarn can be located in the spirit of the crusades and in the desire to propagate the faith upon which political, social and cultural actors sought to build the Portuguese empire.

    If the spirit that animated the crusades was at work in the Reconquest and was given new life by the first expeditions to Africa during the kingdom of Dom Joao I, the exploration of the African coast by the Infant Dom Henrique culminated in the imperial project initiated by Dom Joao II of Portugal, that is, in the construction of the Empire of the Orient and Brazil's colonization.

    Portugal in the fifteenth century assumed a singular role and made a decisive contribution to the change of the cultural and scientific paradigm, emerging as "the nation that reveals to Europe that Man is made up of many men, many races, many colours, creeds, habits, and thus undermining the prevailing unitary view of the world" (Real 2011: 77) (3). We cannot help transcribing the medieval Imago Mundi that the French cardinal Pierre d'Ailly composed about the peoples of Asia, which evidences a clear lack of communication with and ignorance of the Other:

    "In the Mountains of the Orient, beyond the oikoumene [inhabited world], live the pygmies, men that are two cubits tall and dedicate themselves to hunting cranes. These people have a gestation period of three years and die when they are eight [...]. The macrobes can also found be in these regions, men that are twelve cubits tall and fight griffins. We also come across Barbarians who kill their old parents and eat them. Those who refuse to abide by this custom are seen as impious. Others eat raw fish and drink saltwater from the sea. The feet of some of these human monsters face backwards and they have eight fingers; others have dog heads, the skin of beasts and they bark like dogs. There are women in these places who breed only once, and the children, white at birth, become black in old age, which does not last more than a summer. There are others who are pregnant five times, but...

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