English critic Aubrey Bell once said Portuguese literature is the greatest produced by a small country, with the exception of Greece, and the Portuguese are rightly proud of their great distinguished poets and novelists as they are of their illustrious explorers and discoverers.
The first period of Portugal's literary development (from the 12th to late 14th centuries) is inseparable from that of Galicia, a region in the north of Spain that shares linguistic and cultural ties with Portugal. A strong poetic movement appeared during this time, drawing its strength from both the native pre-Roman or Celtic background, and from the influence of the Provençal troubadours from the south of France. The greatest name in medieval literature is Fernão Lopes, the chronicler of Portuguese kings and queens, and until nearly the 16th century Galician-Portuguese remained the common medium of lyrical expression of all Christian Iberia.
In the 16th century Gil Vicente introduced drama to Portuguese literature, with subjects taken from popular life. He was the country's greatest dramatist, painting a satirical picture of Portuguese society in his 44 plays.
In the second half of the same century Portuguese literature gained international status. That's when the country's greatest writer, Luis Vaz de Camões wrote the epic "Os Lusiadas" ("The Lusiads") that glorified the achievements of the Portuguese people. It was written at the time of the Great Discoveries, relating the epic voyage of Vasco da Gama. Camões enjoyed little fame or fortune during his lifetime, but is now a national hero and his "The Lusiads" is considered the national epic.
The greatest authors after Camões are from the 19th century. Almeida Garrett and Alexandre Herculano wrote romances, epics and lyrical dramas, and Manuel do Bocage wrote theater and satirical poetry. Julio Dinis and Camilo Castelo Branco also wrote great historical novels during this time, and authors like Eça de Queiroz and Teofilo Braga wrote some of the country's most popular novels. Eça de Queiroz made critiques of the morals of his days in works like "O Crime do Padre Amaro" ("The Crime of Father Amaro"), which was recently adapted into an Oscar-nominated Mexican film, "Os Maias" ("The Maias"), and "O Primo Basilio" ("Cousin Bazilis").
The 20th century was notable for lyric poetry. The major lyric poet was Fernando Pessoa, a complex and precursory genius whose work has been much published in English. He used different names, among them Ricardo Reis, Alvaro de Campos, Alberto Caeiro, and Bernardo Soares, enabling him to express himself in different styles.
The greatest living Portuguese author is Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago. His greatest success was "Memorial do Covento" (published in English as "Baltasar and Blimunda"), which retraces the construction of Mafra's Palace-Convent. His other outstanding works include "The Stone Raft," "History of the Siege of Lisbon," and "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ."
Other acclaimed contemporary authors include Antonio Lobo Antunes, who some critics say should also have been the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature.