In Canto 7 of The Lusíads, when Vasco da Gama and his crew finally land in Calicut, they encounter a Moor named Monsayeed who explains to the former:

You are now in India, with its various
Peoples who prosper and grow rich
From gold and sweet perfumes and peppercorns
Cardamoms, hot chillies, and precious stones.

Luís Vaz de Camões, The Lusíads. Trans. Landeg White. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. VII.31.4–8, p. 145

The mention of "hot chillies" is puzzling. The chilli pepper was unknown in India until the sixteenth century, when the Portuguese themselves brought it to the subcontinent. Chilli peppers are native to the Americas. Pedro Álvares Cabral landed in Brazil in 1500 and claimed it for Portugal. By 1530, the Portuguese had consolidated their hold on Goa, and they introduced the chilli pepper there around this time. So at da Gama's landing in 1497, how could Monsayeed say that Indians prospered by trading in "hot chillies"? Is this foreshadowing? An error on Camões' part?

1 Answer 1


This is an error introduced by the translator. The original Portuguese text says:

Sabei que estais na Índia, onde se estende
Diverso povo, rico e prosperado
De ouro luzente e fina pedraria,
Cheiro suave, ardente especiaria.

A literal translation (mine) would be:

Know that you are in India, where dwell diverse people, rich and prosperous from bright gold and exquisite gemstones, delicate perfumes, fiery spices.

William Atkinson translates:

You must know that you are now in India, the abode of a diversity of peoples who prosper and grow rich on their gleaming gold and precious stones, their cinnamon and spices.

Luis Vaz de Camões. The Lusiads. Trans. William C. Atkinson. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 1952. P. 249.

Richard Burton's much-maligned translation comes closest to Camões' original:

Know, that ye look on Indo wherein extendeth
a world of nations, rich and fortunate
in lucent gold, and gems of princely price,
and odorif'erous fumes and biting spice.

While both Atkinson and White flavor Camões' lines by tossing in spices not found in the original, Atkinson at least gets history and geography right; cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka. White's mention of hot chillies is anachronistic.

There are other problems with White's translation. The explanatory notes sometimes baffle rather than illuminate. For example, when the Samorin asks da Gama, "What precious gifts do you bring me?" (VIII.62.3, p. 169), the note says: "See canto 4.61–5" (p. 251). But the referenced verses, about João II's sending envoys to explore Eurasia and Africa, contain nothing that seems relevant. Also, while White praises Camões for being "no prude" in describing the carnal pleasures of the Isle of Love, he does not appear to share this frankness, at least not when it comes to same-sex love; he coyly describes Hyacinth (IX.62.3, p. 189) as merely Apollo's "friend" (p. 253). Such infelicities mar what is otherwise an excellent rendition of Camões' ottava rima stanzas into English verse.

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