Bernardim Ribeiro - Encyclopedia

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BERNARDIM RIBEIRO (1482-1552), the father of bucolic prose and verse in Portugal, was a native of Torrao in the Alemtejo. His father, Damiao Ribeiro, was implicated in the conspiracy against King John II. in 1484, and had to flee to Castile, whereupon young Bernardim and his mother took refuge with their relations Antonio Zagalo and D. Ignez Zagalo at the Quinta dos Lobos, near Cintra. When King Manoel came to the throne in 1495, he rehabilitated the families persecuted by his predecessor, and Ribeiro was able to leave his retreat and return to Torrao. Meanwhile D. Ignez had married a rich landowner of Estremoz, and in 1503 she was summoned to court and appointed one of the attendants to the Infanta D. Beatriz. Ribeiro accompanied her, and through her influence the king took him under his protection and sent him to the university of Lisbon, where he studied from 1506 to 1512. When he obtained his degree in law, the king showed him further favour by appointing him to the post of Escrivao da Camara, or secretary, and later by bestowing on him the habit of the military order by Sao Thiago. Ribeiro's poetic career commenced with his coming to court, and his early verses are to be found in the Cancioneiro Geral of Garcia de Resende. He took part in the historic Seroes do Paco, or palace evening entertainments, which largely consisted of poetical improvisations; there he met and earned the friendship of the poets SA de Miranda and Christovao Falcao, who became his literary comrades and the confidants of his romance, in which hope deferred and bitter disappointment ended in tragedy. Ribeiro had early conceived a violent passion for his cousin, D. Joanna Zagalo, the daughter of his protectress, D. Ignez; but, though she seems to have returned it, her family opposed her marriage to a singer and dreamer with small means and prospects, and finally compelled her to wed a rich man, one Pero Gato. When the latter met a violent death shortly afterwards, D. Joanna retired to a house in the country, and it is alleged that Ribeiro visited her, and that their amour resulted in the birth of a child. All we know positively, however, is that in 1521 the lady went into seclusion in the convent of St Clare at Estremoz, where she fell a victim to a violent form of insanity, and that she died there some years later. It is further alleged that Ribeiro's conduct had caused a scandal which led the king to deprive him of his office and exile him. But the loss of position and income can have added very little to the poignant grief of such a true lover and profound idealist as Bernardim Ribeiro. He had poured out his heart in five beautiful eclogues, the earliest in Portuguese, written in the popular octosyllabic verse; and now, hopeless of the future and broken in spirit, he decided to go to Italy, for a poet the land of promise. He started early in 1522, and travelled widely in the peninsula, and during his stay he wrote his moving knightly and pastoral romance Menina e Moca, in which he related the story of his unfortunate passion, personifying himself under the anagram of "Bimnarder," and D. Ignez under that of "Aonia." When he returned home in 1524, the new king, John III., restored him to his former post, and it is said that he paid a last visit to his love at St Clare's convent and found her in a fit of raving madness. This no doubt preyed on a mind already unhinged by trouble, and hastened the decline of his mental powers, which had already commenced. About 1 534 a long illness supervened, and the years that elapsed between that year and his death may be described as the night of his soul. He was quite unable to fulfil the duties of his office, and in 1549 the king bestowed upon him a pension for his support; but he did not live long to enjoy it, for in 1552 he died insane in All Saints Hospital in Lisbon.

The Menina e Moca was not printed until after Ribeiro's death, and then first in Ferrara in 1554. On its appearance the book made such a sensation that its reading was forbidden, because, though it contained nothing heterodox, it disclosed a family tragedy which the allegory could not hide. It is divided into two parts, the first of which is certainly the work of Ribeiro, while as to the second opinion is divided, though Dr Theophilo Braga considers it genuine and explains its progressive lack of lucidity and order by the mental illness of the author. The first part has been ably edited by Dr Jose Pessanha (Oporto, 1891). Ribeiro's verses, including his five eclogues, which for their sincerity of feeling, simple diction and chaste form are unsurpassed in Portuguese literature, were reprinted in a limited edition de luxe by Dr Xavier da Cunha (Lisbon, 1886).


Visconde Sanches de Baena, Bernardim Ribeiro (Lisbon, 1895); Dr Theophilo Braga, Bernardim Ribeiro e o Bucolismo (Oporto, 1897), containing a full analysis of Ribeiro's novel (sometimes called the Saudades, though it is more commonly described, as here, by the initial words of the story, Menina e Mora). (E. PR.)

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