Adamastor is a Greek-type mythological character famed by the Portuguese poet Luís de Camões in his epic poem Os Lusíadas (first printed in 1572), as a symbol of the forces of nature Portuguese navigators had to overcome during their discoveries. Camões gave his creation a history as one of the Gigantes of Greek mythology who had been spurned by Thetis, now appearing in the form of a threatening storm cloud to Vasco da Gama and threatening ruin to anyone hardy enough to pass the Cape and penetrate the Indian Ocean, which was Adamastor's domain. Adamastor became the Spirit of the Cape, a hideous phantom of unearthly pallor:
- "Even as I spoke, an immense shape
- Materialised in the night air,
- Grotesque and enormous stature
- With heavy jowls, and an unkempt beard
- Scowling from shrunken, hollow eyes
- Its complexion earthy and pale,
- Its hair grizzled and matted with clay,
- Its mouth coal black, teeth yellow with decay. —Camões, The Lusiads Canto V.
A popular gathering place in Lisbon is also known by the name 'Adamastor' because of the large stone statue of the mythical figure which presides over the space, which is officially called the Miradouro de Santa Catarina. This vista point offers visitors some of the most breathtaking views of the Tagus river, the 25 de Abril Bridge and the Cristo-Rei monument.
Adamastor is also mentioned in the opera L'Africaine (1865) about Vasco da Gama by the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. The slave Nelusko sings a song about Adamastor while he deliberately steers the ship into a storm and it sinks.
It is mentioned by Voltaire in his Essai sur la poésie épique. It also appears in the works of Victor Hugo: Les Misérables (III, Marius, chap III) and in a poem dedicated to Lamartine (Les Feuilles d'automne, chap IX). Alexandre Dumas, père refers the giant six times: Le Comte de Monte Cristo (chap. XXXI), Vingt ans après (chap. LXXVII), Georges (chap. I), Bontekoe, Les drames de la mer, (chap. I), Causeries (chap. IX) and Mes Mémoires (chap. CCXVIII). Gaston Leroux also mentions it in The Phantom of the Opera (chap. VI). Herman Melville mentions Adamastor and Camões in his Billy Budd, at the end of Chapter VII.
The name Adamastor may have been made as
- An adaptation for the Portuguese language from the Greek word for "Untamed" or "Untameable" (Adamastos).
- An adaptation for the Portuguese language from the Latin word for "imitative rival of Adam" (Adamaster).
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