ZURARA, Gomes Eanes de (1410/20-1474)
Born between 1410 and 1420, Gomes Eanes de Zurara was the second official Portuguese chronicler, a position he held from 1454 until his death in 1474. He received his education in the humanities after going to King Dom Afonso V´s court. It can be said that his work demonstrates a significant humanistic influence, since Homer, Hesiod, Livy, Cicero and many others are found among the large number of authors that he quotes, and his works reveal a level of erudition that is rarely matched by coeval Portuguese authors.
His first historical piece was Crónica da Tomada de Ceuta, part three of Crónica de Dom João I. He wrote Crónica da Conquista da Guiné immediately after, presenting the feats of Prince Henry the Navigator and, after that, Crónica do Conde Dom Pedro de Meneses and Crónica do Conde Dom Duarte de Meneses.
Focusing his literary production on the expansionist movement that, in his time, marked the Portuguese economy as well as the political, cultural, and social aspects of life in the Portuguese Kingdom, and that singled out Portugal and gave it prestige, Gomes Eanes de Zurara is an author who is essential to the study of Portugal in the 1400s, because his works not only present us with facts that are important to our comprehension of the intial phase of Portuguese Expansion, but also afford us a greater understanding of the culture and mentality of this era.
The Chronicler begins his Crónica da Conquista de Ceuta by showing the concern provoked among young aristocrats by the 1411 Treaty of Ayllon, which established a twenty-year period of peace between Portugal and Castille. In fact, the war was more than a means of consolidating their social position; it was their main purpose, hand in hand with counseling the king, so that when it ended the nobles were left without a means of gaining honor or fulfilling their role, fearing that they would lose their influential position. Furthermore, absolute peace was of concern to the Kingdom, since in an era when bellicose conflicts were easily kindled, the bellatores would either depart to other kingdoms where they could war or they would lose their skills.
Thus the peace treaty clearly posed political and social problems, which Zurara illustrated in the cases of the Princes, Infantes Dom Duarte, Dom Pedro and Dom Henrique, who had not been knighted despite having reached adulthood. In fact, vis-à-vis the Greater Nobility comprised of the heros of Aljubarrota, they were in urgent need of proving themselves as future leaders of the Kingdom and of acquiring political legitimacy through warring. This narrative is quite relevant inasmuchas it not only presents us with the social and political factors that along with other reasons led to the decision to conquer Ceuta, but also expands our understanting of the social dynamics of the medieval aristocracy. Moreover, the medieval ideal of the Crusade which marked the politics of the time and drove Dom João I, Dom Duarte, and especially Dom Henrique, is also clearly present in this chronicle.
This ideal of the Crusade would be explored further in his latter work, Crónica da Conquista da Guiné, where the author summarized the motives that led Prince Henry the Navigator to promote sailing beyond Cape Bojador, the southernmost boundary of the waters navigated by Christendom. He indicated that Prince Henry the Navigator was motivated by several factors. First was geographical curiosity, which could not be separated from the search for markets where the Portuguese could trade without competition. Secondly, the desire to evaluate the extent of Muslim power in Africa and the search for allies for the Holy War (namely Prester John, the powerful and legendary Christian king believed to exist in Africa, south of Islamic Magreb) were also motivators. Prince Henry considered the Holy War to be both just and legitimate and saw it to be his duty as a Christian Prince. A final factor was the ambition to spread the Christian faith. In conclusion, besides the obvious economic and strategic aspirations, religious and ideological reasons also led to the initiation of the Age of Discovery, a complex and multifaceted movement.
In addition to demonstrating the unavoidable significance of Prince Henry to the Age of Discovery, Zurara´s works verify that, in the beginning, the Expansionist Movement was imbued with a strong aristocratic slant, which is quite evident in the chronicles of Dom Pedro and Dom Duarte de Meneses, who were respectively captain of Ceuta and captain of Alcácer-Ceguer. Moreover, like other literature from the Age of Discovery, they reveal the commercial and economic interests that motivated maritime exploration early on and demonstrate the difficult initial relationship with the bellicose indigenous populations of the Guinea coast. Finally they depict the personal aspects of the princes of Avis, such as Prince Henry´s complex personality and the feeling of brotherhood uniting Dom Duarte and Dom Pedro.
It is also important to discuss the exactness Gomes Eanes de Zurara evinced when narrating past events. In reality, he reveals some concern with the truth contained in the facts he conveys, since he choses to utilize multiple sources of information, despite having lived at the time of many of the events he relates. Thus, for the production of Crónica da Conquista da Guiné, he gathered as many oral attestations as he could and used the documentation of Afonso de Cerveira, who was Prince Henry´s secretary and scrivener. In order to write Crónica do Conde Dom Duarte de Meneses, in turn, he went to North Africa, where he collected oral attestations from Dom Henrique de Meneses, son of the captain of Alcácer-Ceguer, as well as from other Portuguese and Muslims who lived in this Moroccan stronghold.
Regarding the leading role he ascribed to Prince Henry in Crónica da Conquista de Ceuta, The Chronicle of the Conquest of Ceuta, it should be mentioned that, despite the fact that he detailed all of the Prince´s activities, the chronicler did not refrain from criticizing him, pointing out the inconsistencies and excessive ambition of his actions. In fact, Zurara demonstrates that the conquest of the city resulted from Prince Duarte´s rather than from Prince Henry´s actions. Prince Henry´s audacious acts, however, earned him the praise of his contemporaries and were highly regarded by King João I.
As far as Zurara´s portrayal of Prince Henry as profoundly devout and motivated by the ideal of the Crusade, we have no basis to claim that it was fabricated by the chronicler, since it is not contradicted by the extant documentation and, even the Venetian Alvise Cadamostro, portrays Prince Henry in a similar light, though he only had a business relationship with him and his report demonstrates no inclination to praise him unduly. We can only assume that even if this was not a true depiction of Prince Henry, it nevertheless was the image that he chose to cultivate and convey to his contemporaries.
In conclusion, despite traditionally being relegated to the shadow of Fernão Lopes by historiography, where he is remembered as being indifferent to social dynamics, having an individualistic conception of society, and lauding only the feats of the warring aristocracy, Zurara´s true value is being recognized by some contemporary authors - fortunately. In reality, although his works should not be read as presenting absolute truths, because they are associated with all the subjectivity that is typical of human beings, he did record many significant aspects of the Portuguese Expansion, as well as of the culture and mentality of 15th century Portugal.
CARVALHO, Margarida Barradas, ?L?ideologie religieuse dans la «Crónica dos Feitos de Guiné» de Gomes Eanes de Zurara?, sep. de Bulletin des études portugaises, t. XIX, 1956. COSTA, João Paulo Oliveira e, Henrique, o Infante, Lisboa, Esfera dos Livros, 2009 (no prelo). ZURARA, Gomes Eanes de, Crónica da Conquista de Ceuta, introdução e notas de Reis Brasil, Mem Martins, Publicações Europa-América, cop. 1992. ZURARA, Gomes Eanes de, Cronica do Descobrimento e Conquista de Guiné escrita por mandado de ElRei D. Affonso V (...), introdução, ilustração e notas do Visconde de Santarém, Paris, J. P. Aillaud, 1841.
Author: Catarina Simões
Translated by: Maria João Pimentel