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Camoes e a divina proporcao.

This is the second edition of a book that originally appeared in 1984. Its author made some changes in the text and added to the Bibliography sixteen new titles that were published in the years that followed. Graca Moura devotes this volume to the study of the famous redondilhas "Sobre os rios que vao," a beautiful paraphrase of Psalm 136 by the Portuguese poet Camoes, included in his Rhythmas of 1595. This is thus a timely celebration of the four-hundred-year anniversary of the princeps.

Because Graca Moura is studying only one poetic composition, and a rather short one, a general overview of different aspects of the life and works of Camoes was more or less necessary in order to discuss the possible date of composition and the relation of the redondilhas to other lyrical works of the poet. Graca Moura also studies the historical moment in which "Sobre os rios que vao" is inscribed and the genre of the Biblical text to which the poem is related.

The book is divided into eight chapters. The Renaissance scholar who is not a specialist in Portuguese literature will find particularly useful chapter one, which is devoted to "Os Salmos e o Humanismo" and chapter six, which gives the title to the book, where Graca Moura states the question of divine proportion. The Camoes scholar instead will find most attractive the ones related to the life of Camoes, particularly the years in the Far East ("O texto e o naufragio") and the chapter "Camoes and Fr. Heitor Pinto."

The title of the book refers to Luca Pacioli's treatise De divina proportione (1509) and is indicative of the author's interest in numerology and its application to literary research. Graca Moura is very knowledgeable of the latest bibliography about numerology and is aware of the dangers of simplistic applications of it to the study of literature (135-39). Using a continuous proportion of three terms as explained by Robert Lawlor in Sacred Geometry (1982) and applying it to the structure of Camoes's poem, Graca Moura finds a structural pattern in the number of lines as well as in the number of redondilhas; for him this seems to be related to the principles established by Pacioli's book. Therefore, the structure of the poem follows a Pythagorean order that is related to the so-called golden proportion, an order that enables the reader to better understand the redondilhas that paraphrase Psalm 136.

Chapter three, "Palinodia e rapsodia," shows Graca Moura as a careful reader, one able to define more than twenty thematic elements that can be related to the main sources that structure this poem: the Bible, Fr. H. Pinto, and other texts by Camoes himself (see also chapter five). He also establishes an interesting connection between the ideas of Pico de la Mirandola and what he sees as Camoes's efforts to reconcile his Catholic orthodoxy with Pythagorean principles.

To this reader, the best contributions of the book are not related to the numerological study that seems to be the main purpose of the author, but to the other subjects that are explored to established the background of the central theme. I am referring in particular to "Camoes e F. Heitor Pinto," "Seis poemas sobre Babel e Siao," and "A musica e a vida." In this last one the reader will find very useful and sharp comments on the relationship of Camoes's thinking and literary production and the ideas of Erasmus or Leone Battista Alberti, as well as an overview of the problems of translation during the Renaissance, particularly the translation of biblical texts (175-78; see 16 for the tradition in the translations of the Psalms).

Finally, I would like to call to the attention of the readers interested in "Sobre os rios" a short story by Jorge de Sena not mentioned by Graca Moura. Although Jorge de Sena's A Estrutura de "Os Lusiadas" . . ., does study some aspects of the symbolic value of numbers in literary texts, particularly in the poetic production of Camoes (as Graca Moura notes on 136 and again on 146), in my opinion, his wonderful short story "By the Rivers of Babylon" (translated by Dapne Patai and published by Rutgers University Press in 1989), is probably the best literary introduction to the reading of the famous redondilhas by Camoes.

ISAIAS LERNER City University of New York, Graduate Center
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Author:Lerner, Isaias
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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