Portugal on stamps

This omnibus issue for the mainland and the overseas provinces commemorates the first printing of The Lusiads in 1572. Written by Luís de Camões, The Lusiads (which refers to the Portuguese, the descendants of the Lusitanians, a Celtic tribe) is an epic poem describing several episodes from Portugal’s history, with an emphasis on Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India. The poem is set in a mythological and fantastical context, following the Greek and Latin traditions, and comprises almost 9000 decasyllabic verses, structured in ten cantos, each with over hundred stanzas, each with rhyming scheme ABABABCC. The Lusiads is one of the greatest works written in Portuguese, and has been translated to various languages.

Unfortunately, the way I was ‘taught’ it at school was pretty off-putting. Instead of getting an overall explanation of what the poem was about, and reading some of the more descriptive or lyrical stanzas, we had to analyse the grammar of the first stanzas, which are full of mythological references. Not the best way of engaging 10 and 11 year olds with a masterpiece…

Some of the stamps require explanation:

  • The Adamastor, a mythical giant who confronts the Portuguese at the Cape of Good Hope to prevent their entrance in the Indic Ocean, is one of Camões’ most memorable characters.
  • According to legend, Camões swam while holding the unfinished manuscript, after being shipwrecked along the Cambodian coast during a trip from Macao to Goa.
  • The island of St. Thomas is named after the apostle who had to touch Jesus’ wounds to believe in His resurrection.
  • The Cape Verde stamp refers to Cap Vert, the westernmost point of Africa’s mainland, in current Senegal. The Portuguese first named the cape (Cabo Verde means ‘green cape’) and then gave the same name to the archipelago.
  • Canto V describes Vasco da Gama’s voyage from Lisbon until Melinde, and hence the references to the West African places.

The mainland set was designed by Daciano Costa, lithographed by Litografia Maia on enamelled paper sheets of 5×10 stamps with perforation 13½, and circulated from 27 December 1972 to 31 December 1983.

The overseas set was designed by Alberto Cutileiro, lithographed by Litografia Maia on glazed paper sheets with perforation 13½, and issued on 25 May 1972.

Stamp Print run Afinsa Gibbons Michel Scott Yvert
1.00 9,000,000 1175 1493 1193 1164 1173
3.00 2,500,000 1176 1494 1194 1165 1174
10.00 1,000,000 1177 1495 1195 1166 1175
Angola 557 704 581 568 577
Cape Verde 344 425 364  360
Guinea 331 422 341  341  352
Macao 728 517 453  425  424
Mozambique 527 617 562  503  562
St. Thomas 403 467 418  407  414
Timor 357 415 365 342  351


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