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Dreaming of Hector in the Brazilian Neoclassical Period: Conceptualizing 'Window Reception'

Adriana Maria Vazquez


In this paper, I offer a case study in classical epic reception that focuses on an episode in José Basílio da Gama’s 18th century Brazilian neoclassical vernacular epic O Uraguai that I argue is intertextually informed by the description of Aeneas' dream of Hector in the second book of Vergil’s Aeneid. José Basílio da Gama (1740-1795) was a Brazilian poet and statesman educated in the classical tradition at the University of Coimbra in Portugal and who later became a member of the Italian learned society called the Arcadia Ultramarina. His most important poetic production was his neoclassical epic O Uraguai, the national epic poem of Brazil, which describes scenes from the War of the Seven Reductions (1754-1759); in it, the poet champions the cause of the Tupi-Guaraní native Brazilian populations against Spanish and Portuguese expansionists seeking to extend their dominion over South America. The epic can be considered a Brazilian 'epic of the conquered', to borrow David Quint's terminology (Quint 1993), and clearly displays the influence of the antique epic tradition (cf. Pinheiro Chaves 1999).

In the passage in question, the Amerindian hero Cacambo is visited in sleep by his slaughtered comrade Sepé. The description of this visitation borrows language and imagery from the Latin original in a bilingual intertextual relationship across languages, with the clearest relationship established around the vision of a formerly great hero. Basílio da Gama's description of the ghost of Sepé is precisely analogous to that of Hector given by Vergil. A close comparison demonstrates the bilingual echoes available:

quanto diverso do Sepé valente, que...

How different he was from that courageous Sepé, who...

                                                                                    -Basílio da Gama, O Uraguai, 3.51-2

quantum mutatus ab illo | Hectore qui...                   

How changed he was from that Hector, who...

                                                                                    -Vergil, Aeneid, 2.272-3

The intertext is an activation of what is already in Vergil a receptive moment, insofar as the episode in the Aeneid allusively responds to the Homeric epic tradition, and generates metapoetic readings of the episode in the Uraguai in a chain of receptions that capitalizes on epic as a poetic genre which works against its closure and for its continuation (Hardie 1993). Such an activation provides the occasion for Basílio da Gama to meta-receptively set his poem in an epic tradition first established in antiquity and subsequently imagined for the New World by European metropoles.

I then demonstrate that the passage is also engaged intertextually with a passage from Luís Vaz de Camões’ 16th century Portuguese epic Os Lusíadas, the national epic of Portugal describing the colonization of India by the explorer Vasco da Gama, in ways which comment on the status of both texts as markedly distinct receptions of Vergil’s Aeneid. The Vergilian engagement of Basilio da Gama's O Uraguai reacts against the Vergilian engagement of Camões' Os Lusíadas, which takes the Roman epic as a model for and justification of colonialism. The Brazilian poet engages the Lusiads metapoetically as source material in a Lusophone epic tradition chronicling Portuguese colonial expansion, but also responds to it ideologically as a vehicle for colonialist justification, refuting the colonialist mandate of the Portuguese by offering a pessimistic reading of the Aeneid, available to receptions of the Aeneid beginning as early as the 15th century (Kallendorf 2007). Philological methods and textual interpretation thus become the stage for ideological debate around the merits and costs of colonialism.

Such a case study represents a methodologically original approach to reading reception that triangulates between an ancient source, an intermediary receptive text, and a target receptive text. By such a methodology, I identify a topos in receptive texts that I am calling ‘window reception’, in which receptive texts comment on their status as receptions in direct dialogue and competition with earlier receptive texts.

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Global Receptions

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