Among the literatures created by small peoples, Portuguese is one of those that hold strong human values, because it reflects a national history of great dramatic interest: the persistence, that is, of a small nation, which has tenaciously resisted the Iberian encirclement and which, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, performed a first-rate action in the exploration and knowledge of the earth.
Unlike Spanish literature, which opens its tradition with an epic poem (Mio Cid), Portuguese literature begins with a lyrical flowering, that included in its great Provençal-style songbooks, whose oldest composition seems to be recognizable in a poem by Paio Soares de Taveiros (n.38 del Cancioneiro da Ajuda) to Donna Maria Paes Ribeiro, favorite of Sancho I, second king of Portugal, to whom many romances refer under the name of Ribeirinha and historical narratives. It is evident that long before the century. XII are some documents of the Portuguese vernacular, but without literary value; already in the century. IX, long before the national formation which was born in fact in 1128 and by law in 1143, Portuguese words appear in Latin texts.
According to best-medical-schools, the history of Portuguese literature, from its origins to the contemporary age, can be distinguished and characterized as follows: 1. Medieval age (1189-1502), from the oldest datable monument, the aforementioned poem by Paio Soares de Taveiros, up to the Monologue do Vaqueiro by Gil Vicente, who begins in Portugal and in Renaissance literature the poetic theater, the car, a typical creation of the Iberian Peninsula. Two eras can be defined in the medieval period: the first (1189-1434), from the origins of opera to the creation of literary prose, mainly by Fernão Lopes, the kingdom’s first major chronicler; the second (1434-1502) which represents the development of this literary prose and the liberation of the lyric from the Provençal imitation. – 2. Classical period (1502-1825): from Gil Vicente to Almeida Garrett, introducer of the romantic taste with his poem Camões. In it it is easy to identify some periods: the first (1502-1580), from Gil Vicente to the death of Camões, which coincides with the first Castilian penetration; the second (1580-1756), from the death of Camões to the reform carried out by the Arcadia Lusitana, the era of the greatest penetration of Spanish cultural elements (“sebastianist” prophecy, gongorism, mysticism, etc.); the third (1756-1825), from the Arcadia Lusitana, who intended to free Portugal from Spanish influence, up to French neoclassicism and the first romantic type of Garrett. – 3. Romantic age (from 1825 to today), also characterized by three eras: the first (1825-1865), essentially romantic in tone; the second (1865-1900), with the predominance of realism; the third, following the death of Eça de Queiroz, the most representative novelist of realistic taste, coincides with the rise of a nationalist, symbolist and traditionalist literature, and with the modern tendency towards a critical and cosmopolitan aesthetic, which manifests itself above all with the decline of lyricism and the spread of the critical essay.
Knowledge of Portuguese medieval literature is mainly due to the historical sentiment of Romanticism and scientific philology. Overall, considering the three great Provençal-style songbooks (the songbook of Iuda, that of the Vaticana and that of the Colocci-Brancuti) and also taking into account the loss of the monuments listed by T. Braga, Portuguese literature of the Middle Ages is not rich. However, it presents some predominant aspects:
1. An abundant lyrical flowering of a Provençal character, which extends mainly from 1189 to 1340, and in which Portuguese authors and other Spanish nationalities collaborate at the same time, which gives the Portuguese language great prestige, as a lyrical expression of the Iberian Peninsula, romancero. This poem still offers serious critical problems, especially that of the origins and the other more properly aesthetic. –
2. A considerable complex of Latin works, in prose and verse (chronicles, works of mysticism, philosophy, hagiography, legends and the epic poem by Soeiro Gosuino on the battle of Salado). These Latin texts cannot be understood in the real Portuguese literature (i.e. understood as a national spirit that expresses itself artistically in the national language), but they reveal the major Portuguese names of the time: Saint Anthony of Lisbon, Pope John XXI and Alvaro Country. – 3. A school of fruitful translators, whose main center is the abbey of Alcobaça, reminiscent of the school of translators of Toledo, and produces the first monuments of Portuguese literary prose. The translated authors are, among others, those of the Bible, Origen of Alexandria, Sant’Agostino, S. Gregorio Magno, S. Bernardo di Chiaravalle, Martin Pérez, fra Domenico Cavalca, Giovanni Climaco, Ludolfo di Sassonia, Ugo di S. Vittore, S. Jerome, Alfonso X of Castile, etc. These translations of Alcobaça constitute the first epoch of Portuguese prose, the age of true literary formation, which extends to the end of the century. XIV. – 4. The group of writers of the century is linked to this prose. XV, which could be called These translations of Alcobaça constitute the first epoch of Portuguese prose, the age of true literary formation, which extends to the end of the century. XIV. –
4. The group of writers of the century is linked to this prose. XV, which could be called joanninos, because King John I and his sons are the central nucleus of the cycle, either as direct collaborators or as protectors. They are works of morality and didactics, of hunting art, of horse riding; and the first chronicles of the kings also appear, among which those of Fernão Lopes (1380? -1460?) have a main place. This chronicler narrated the events of the transition period from medieval Portugal to the Portugal of the navigators, through the crisis of 1383-1385, and he did so with great psychological insight, historical fidelity and literary grace. –
5. A group of courtly poets, who poets at the court of John and reduced the sentiment of the nobility to a decorative element, through that poetic material that Garcia de Rezende (1470-1536), private secretary of the king, organized in his Cancioneiro Geral, published in 1516. This collection documents the decadence of Provençalism and announces the dawn of literary individuality, of which Duarte de Brito and JR de Castello Branco are the main representatives, and reveals the first forms of Italianism. In these pages collected by Rezende the literary bilingualism of the Portuguese, which goes from the archaic period up to the century, is resolutely manifested for the first time. XVII, expressing himself now in Portuguese now in Castilian and creating works that become classic at the same time in the two countries. This bilingualism is inaugurated by the questionable Pedro de Portugal (1429-1466), grandson of King John I. The compiler of the songbook, Garcia de Rezende, was also a poet and prose writer.