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Category: Exonumia



Silver, AU

36 mm (1-7/16”), 35.4 grams

HISTORY: Luís Vaz de Camões (1524‒1580) was one of Portugal’s most important and beloved poets. His epic story, Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), was published in 1572 as a 1,102-stanza (verse), 10-canto (chapter) book. It was written in the ottava rima poetic style, which originated in Italy by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313‒1375) two centuries earlier than the epic poetry of Portugal’s de Camões. This style consists of an 8-line verse with 11 syllables each and a rhyming pattern ABABABCC (see Sample 1). The tale is as much about the celebration of Portuguese navigator and explorer Vasco da Gama (1460‒1524) and his discovery of an ocean route to the west coast of India as it is about the passionate history of Portugal.

On July 8, 1497, da Gama set sail from Lisbon with a fleet of four ships, setting course south around the tip of Africa because the Mediterranean/ Persian Gulf route was fraught with danger. They then sailed north along the African coastline, establishing relations with numerous cultures, and arrived at Malindi (in present-day Kenya) on April 14, 1498. Ten days later, the four ships began their crossing of the Indian Ocean, arriving on May 20, 1498, at the beaches of Calicut, India, thereby successfully establishing a spice trade between India and Portugal.

However, de Camões was a poet, not a historian. His influences were taken from the epic poems of the Greek Homer (The Odyssey) and the Roman Virgil (The Aeneid). On the morning of demarcation in Lisbon, da Gama was surrounded by the Greco-Roman deities Bacchus and Venus. Bacchus, who was disguised as a Moor (Persian) and who represented the east, opposed the voyage; Venus, however, supported the voyage and hushed Bacchus.

The story really began after da Gama rounded Africa. Bacchus attempted to arrange a shipwreck, attacking da Gama and his crew. Venus intervened and the voyage continued. Two of the four ships, however, were lost on the historic first trip. The adventurers finally arrived along the India coast (Kozhikode, known as the “City of Spices” during the Middle Ages) and established positive trade relationships.

On the return journey, the explorers chanced upon an island that Venus had prepared for them. Nymphs greeted the sailors and rewarded them for all their labors, singing songs of Portugal’s glorious future. Vasco da Gama and his crew then set sail for their homeland.

OBVERSE: Lima de Freitas (1927‒1998) was a Portuguese artist, having illustrated over 100 books during his remarkable career. In 1956, Lisbon publisher ARTIS produced a new edition of Os Lusíadas with a preface and notes by Hernâni Cidade and illustrated by de Freitas (see Detail 1). In 1981, the illustrations were used to create the themes for a series of medals by sculptor A. Cândido (possibly Portuguese medalist Domingos António Cândido). The theme for this medal is from an exciting de Freitas etching (Detail 2).

The scene is of Venus and her nymphs greeting da Gama and his ship (see the Portuguese text below in Sample 1). The signature of “Lima de Freitas” is at 10 o’clock; “ESC ACândido” (stylized) is at 2 o’clock.

REVERSE: Center is “OS LUSÍADAS” (de Camões’ major life’s work) and the poetic line from canto 2, line 22 (“Canto 2°, 33”), which describes the scene on the obverse of this medal. A radiant star shines above. Beneath is a motif of soldiery—a shield in the foreground, a winged helmet, a sword to the left, a spear to the right, and flowing ribbons behind. A mint mark has been stamped below the right of edge of the shield.

EDGE: Smooth.

SAMPLE 1: This is an example of de Camões’ ottava rima, which is a poetic form consisting of 8 lines, each with 11 syllables, and a rhyming pattern of ABABABCC. Os Lusíadas canto 2°, 22 reads:

Original Portuguese text:


Põe-se a Deusa com outras em direito

Da proa capitaina, e ali fechando

O caminho da barra, estão de jeito

Que em vão assopra o vento, a vela inchando;

Põem no madeiro duro o brando peito,

Pera detrás a forte nau forçando;

Outras em derredor levando-a estavam

E da barra inimiga a desviavam.

—Luís Vaz de Camões, Os Lusíadas, 2°, 22

Translated text:


The Goddess is put with others in the right

Of the bow capitaine, and there closing

The way of the bar, they are in a way

That in vain blows the wind, the candle swelling;

They put in the hardwood the soft chest,

Put behind the strong force-hard,

Others in the surrounding leading were

And the enemy around diverted her.

Detail 1
Detail 2