António Botto

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António Botto (Concavada, Portugal, August 17, 1892 – Rio de Janeiro, March 16, 1959) was a Portuguese aesthete and modernist poet.

Early life[edit]

António Thomaz Botto was born at 8:00 a.m.[1] to Maria Pires Agudo and Francisco Thomaz Botto, near Abrantes. His father earned his living as a boatman in the Tagus. In 1902 his family moved to the Alfama quarter in Lisbon, where he grew up in its typical and popular atmosphere, which would deeply influence his work. He was poorly educated and since youth he took to a series of menial jobs, among them that of a book-shop clerk which made him acquainted with many of Lisbon's men of letters. He got into civil service as an administrative clerk in several government offices. In 1924–25 he worked in Santo António do Zaire and Luanda, Angola.

The scandal of Canções[edit]

His first book of poems Trovas was published in 1917. It was followed by Cantigas de Saudade (1918), Cantares (1919) and Canções do Sul(1920). Canções was published in 1921 and went unnoticed. Only after Fernando Pessoa published the 2nd edition ofCanções (Songs), in his publishing house "Olisipo", emerged a public scandal amongst the Lisbon society which granted Botto a lifelong notoriety.

To noise Botto's book, Pessoa wrote a provocative and encomiastic article about Canções, published in the journal Comtemporânea,[2] praising the author’s courage and sincerity for shamelessly singing homosexual love as a true aesthete. Pessoa's article had a reply in the same journal by the critic Alvaro Maia.,[3] followed by another article by Raul Leal (a friend of Pessoa, writer and homossexual).

Conservatives reacted and complained to the authorities about the work’s immorality ("Sodom's literature") and the book was apprehended by the authorities in 1923. Catholic college students clamored for an auto-da-fé of Botto's book and someone even suggested the author should be hanged. Nevertheless, most artists and intellectuals, headed by Pessoa (a close friend of Botto's and also his publisher and English translator), promptly took up his defence in several polemic articles.

Eventually, the scandal subsided, the next year the ban was lifted and until the end of his life Botto would publish several revised versions of the book. His work was applauded by people like Antonio Machado, Miguel de Unamuno, Camilo Pessanha, Virginia Woolf, Teixeira de Pascoaes, José Régio, Luigi Pirandello, Stefan Zweig, Rudyard Kipling, James Joyce and Federico García Lorca.


Botto was somewhat of a character. He is described as a slender, medium-height dandy, fastidiously dressed, oval-faced, a tiny mouth with thin pursed lips, strange, scrutinizing, ironic eyes (sometimes clouded by a disturbing malicious expression) hidden by an everpresent fedora.[4] He had a sardonic sense of humour, a sharp, perverse and irreverent mind and tongue, and he was a brilliant and witty conversationalist. He was kind to his friends but he would become fiercely bitchy if he felt someone disliked him or didn't treat him with the unconditional admiration he felt he deserved. He also revelled in indiscrete gossiping. On that account he made a lot of enemies. Some of his contemporaries said he was frivolous, mercurial, mundane, uneducated, vindictive, a mythomaniac and, above all, terribly vain and narcissistic to the point of megalomania.[5] He was a regular visitor of Lisbon's popular bohemian quarters and the docks, enjoying the company of sailors, a frequent image in his poems. In spite of being mainly homosexual, he had a lifelong female companion, Carminda Silva Rodrigues: "Marriage suits every handsome and decadent man", he once wrote.[6]

Expelled from job[edit]

On November 9, 1942[7] Botto was expelled from the civil service for i) disobeying orders; ii) for wooing a male co-worker and addressing to him ambiguous words, denouncing tendencies condemned by the social morals; and iii) for writing and reciting verses during the working hours, disrupting discipline in the workplace. When he read the public announcement in the official gazette he was totally disheartened: "Now I'm the only acknowledged homosexual in Portugal...", he ironized.

He supported himself by writing articles, columns and criticism in newspapers, and several books, among them Os Contos de António Botto and O Livro das Crianças, a best-seller collection of short stories for children that would be officially approved as school reading in Ireland (The Children’s Book, translated by Alice Lawrence Oram). But this proved insufficient. His health was deteriorating from tertiary syphilis (he refused to be treated) and the brilliance of his poetry was fading away. He was jeered at in cafés and cinemas by homophobes. He was fed up with living in Portugal and in 1947 he decided to emigrate to Brazil. To raise funds for his trip[8] in May he gave two large poetry recitals in Lisbon and Porto. It was a big success and he was largely praised by several artists and intellectuals, among them Amália Rodrigues, João Villaret and the writer Aquilino Ribeiro. On August 17 (the day he turned 50), he and his wife sailed to Brazil.

Later years and death[edit]

In Brazil he resided in São Paulo until 1951 and then moved to Rio de Janeiro. He survived by writing articles and columns in Portuguese and Brazilian newspapers, doing some radio shows and poetry readings in theatres, associations, clubs and, finally, cheap taverns.

He was doing badly day by day and he ended up living in utter misery (sometimes he fed on flour mixed with water). His megalomania (due to syphilis) was rampant and he told delirious, outlandish stories of being visited in Lisbon by André Gide ("If it was not him then it was Marcel Proust..."), of being the greatest living poet in the world and that he was the owner of São Paulo. In 1954 he asked to be repatriated but he gave up because he lacked the money for the trip. (For that purpose he even tried to be in the good graces of Cardinal Cerejeira, writing the lyrics of Avé de Fátima, Our Lady of Fátima's now most popular hymn.) In 1956 he fell seriously ill and was hospitalised for a time.

On March 4, 1959, while crossing the Copacabana Avenue, in Rio de Janeiro, he was run over by a car.[9] He died on March 16, 1959, around 5:00 pm, in the Hospital da Beneficiência Portuguesa.[10] In 1966 his remains were transferred to Lisbon and since November 11 they are buried in the Alto de São João cemetery.


1917 – Trovas (poems)

1918 – Cantiga de Saudade (poems)

1919 – Cantares (poems)

1920 – Canções do Sul (poems), com um estudo de Jayme de Balsemão, Lisbon, Agartha Press.

1921 - Canções (poems), preface by Teixeira de Pascoaes, Lisbon, Agartha Press.

1922 – Canções, 2nd edition, Lisbon, Olisipo (until 1956, under the title As Canções de António Botto, this book will have several revised and augmented editions by the author. Critics say the last credible one is that of 1932, the following ones being increasingly worse in quality).

1924 – Curiosidades Estéticas (poems)

1925 – Piquenas Esculturas (poems)

1927 – Olimpíadas (poems)

1928 – Dandysmo (poems)

1929 – Antologia de Poemas Portugueses Modernos (with Fernando Pessoa)

1931 – O Livro das Crianças (children short stories)

1933 – Alfama (theatre); António (theatre)

1934 – O Meu Amor Pequenino (short stories); Ciúme (poems)

1935 – Dar de Beber a Quem Tem Sede (short stories); A Verdade e Nada Mais (children anthology); The Children's Book, translated by Alice Lawrence Oram; illustrated by Carlos Botelho, Lisbon: Bertrand & Irmãos.

1938 – A Vida Que Te Dei (poemas); Os Sonetos de António Botto (poems)

1940 – O Barco Voador (short stories); Isto Sucedeu Assim (novel)

1941 – OLeabhar na hÓige. Scéalta ón bPortaingéilis. Oifig an tSolatháir: Baile Átha Cliath (short stories with illustrations, Irish translation of Os Contos de António Botto para Crianças e Adultos)

1942 – Os Contos de António Botto para Crianças e Adultos (short stories)

1943 – A Guerra dos Macacos (short stories)

1945 – As Comédias de António Botto (theatre)

1947 – Ódio e Amor (poems)

1948 – Songs (English translation by Fernando Pessoa of Canções)

1953 - Histórias do Arco da Velha (children's stories)

1955 – Teatro; Fátima Poema do Mundo

1999 - As Canções de António Botto, Presença, Lisboa, 1999 (out-of-print)

2008 - Canções e outros poemas, Quasi Edições, Lisboa, 2008

2008 - Fátima, Quasi Edições, Lisboa, 2008

2010 - Canções: António Botto. Tradução para o inglês: Fernando Pessoa. Edição, prefácio e notas: Jerónimo Pizarro e Nuno Ribeiro. Babel, Lisboa, 2010. (Comprises the English translation by Fernando Pessoa)

2010 - The Songs of António Botto translated by Fernando Pessoa. Edited and with an introduction by Josiah Blackmore. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2010

Further reading (chronological order)[edit]

  • Pessoa, Fernando: "António Botto e o Ideal Estético em Portugal", Contemporanea, nr. 3, July 1922, pp. 121–126
  • Maia, Álvaro: "Literatura de Sodoma - o Senhor Fernando Pessoa e o Ideal Estético em Portugal", Contemporanea, nr. 4, October 1922, pp. 31–35
  • Leal, Raul: Sodoma Divinizada (Leves reflexões teometafísicas sobre um artigo), February 1923
  • Liga de Acção dos Estudantes de Lisboa: Manifesto dos Estudantes das Escolas Superiores de Lisboa, March 1923
  • Campos, Álvaro de (Fernando Pessoa): Aviso por Causa da Moral, March 1923
  • Leal, Raul: Uma Lição de Moral aos Estudantes de Lisboa e o Descaramento da Igreja Católica, March 1923
  • Pessoa, Fernando: Sobre um Manifesto dos Estudantes, March 1923
  • Régio, José: "António Botto", Presença, nr. 13, June 13, 1928, pp. 4–5
  • Simões, João Gaspar: "António Botto e o problema da Sinceridade", Presença, nr. 24, January 1930, pp. 2–3
  • Régio, José: "O poeta António Botto e o seu novo livro Ciúme", Diário de Lisboa, July 21, 1934
  • Colaço, Tomás Ribeiro: "António Botto - um poeta que não existe", Fradique, July 26, 1934 (a polemic ensues with José Régio until March 1935)
  • Régio, José: António Botto e o Amor, 1938
  • Régio, José: "Evocando um Poeta", Diário de Notícias, September 19, 1957
  • Rodrigues, José Maria: "A verdade sobre António Botto", Século Ilustrado, March 21, 19 (last interview with A. Botto)
  • Simões, João Gaspar: Vida e Obra de Fernando Pessoa, Lisboa, 1950
  • Simões, João Gaspar: Retratos de Poetas que Conheci, Brasília Editora, Porto, 1974
  • Almeida, L.P. Moitinho de: Fernando Pessoa no cinquentenário da sua morte, Coimbra Editora, Coimbra, 1985
  • Cesariny, Mário: O Virgem Negra, Assírio e Alvim, Lisboa, 1989
  • Leal, Raul: Sodoma Divinizada (antologia de textos organizada por Aníbal Fernandes), Hiena Editora, Lisboa, 1989
  • "António Botto, Cem Anos de Maldição" (a dossier about Botto by several authors on celebration of his 100th anniversary), JL - Jornal de Letras, Artes e Ideias, nr. 699, July 30-August 12, 1997, Lisboa.
  • Sales, António Augusto: António Botto - Real e Imaginário, Livros do Brasil, Lisboa, 1997
  • Fernandes, Maria da Conceição: António Botto - um Poeta de Lisboa - Vida e Obra. Novas Contribuições, Minerva, Lisboa, 1998
  • Amaro, Luís: António Botto - 1897-1959 (Catálogo), Biblioteca Nacional, Lisboa, 1999
  • Dacosta, Fernando: Máscaras de Salazar, Casa das Letras, Lisboa, 2006
  • Almeida, São José: Homossexuais no Estado Novo, Sextante, Lisboa, 2010
  • Leal, Raul: Sodoma Divinizada. Organização, introdução e cronologia: Aníbal Fernandes. Babel, Lisboa, 2010

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Baptismal record.
  2. ^ "ANTONIO BOTTO e o Ideal Esthetico em Portugal" in CONTEMPORANEA: Grande Revista Mensal nr. 3, Lisbon, July, 1922, pp. 121-126.
  3. ^ "LITERATURA DE SODOMA: O Sr. Fernando Pessoa e o Ideal Estético em Portugal" in CONTEMPORANEA: Grande Revista Mensal nr. 4, Lisbon, October, 1922, pp. 31-35.
  4. ^ Simões, João Gaspar: Retratos de Poetas que Conheci, Brasília Editora, Porto, 1974.
  5. ^ Almada Negreiros said Botto was like a "serpent" (Simões, p. 175).
  6. ^ Curiosidades Estéticas, Canção VII
  7. ^ Diário do Governo, II série, nº 262, November 9, 1942, pp. 5794–96.
  8. ^ It is now known that the main donor was banker Ricardo Espírito Santo, at Salazar’s request, who took pity on Botto’s sorrowful condition. (Dacosta, Fernando: As Máscaras de Salazar, Lisboa, 2006.)
  9. ^ João Gaspar Simões in an article says that a witness would have seen Botto throwing himself in front of the car, so the possibility of suicide is not to be discarded. Also, because it was a government car, his widow was granted a pension.
  10. ^ In the 1980s a Portuguese tabloid (Jornal do Incrível) published an extant and impressive rare photo of Botto's last moments: his wife, crying convulsively, clinching the badly shaven and shabbily dressed corpse of the poet.

External links[edit]