Gregorio de Matos: The Religiously Perverse Poet

Like all other Art forms, literature reflects the relationship between human beings and the world. Likewise, it also represents the changes in relations between individuals (changes that may have been caused by several factors, from economic to geopolitical).

While art reflects the mentality, social relations and ideology, the “advancement” of artistic techniques themselves reflect the historical period in which they operate.

In the case of literature, so that one can understand their transformations and innovations, its history was divided in a didactic manner. That’s why, at least in Portuguese, it was through literary styles or schools that many intellectuals shared the history of literature.

In Brazil there are only two schools of writing: the Colonial Era and the National Era which have their own internal divisions. While the beginning of the Colonial period saw some literary manifestations, it is only with the Baroque that the Brazilian literary production becomes relevant.

Baroque Style

Quite briefly, Baroque can be seen as an artistic expression or a reflection of the impact of the Counter-Reformation the Catholic Church, especially in Neo-Latin Europe. Therefore, it reflected a “fight” against Protestant ideas and growing rationalism in England, France and the Netherlands.

However, by no means can Baroque be seen as an attempt to return to pre-medieval mentality because it inherited many features from Renaissance classicists. Moreover, after all the changes in the Renaissance and with the rise of Mercantilism, there was a profound transformation in the daily social relations amongst individuals.

Among the main features of the Baroque literature, the most representative are these:

  • Pessimism
  • Imbalance between reason and emotion
  • Duality and contradiction
  • Illusion and subjectivity
  • Tendency towards reference (indirect description)
  • Predominance of figures of speech such as metaphor, antithesis, paradox, inversion, hyperbole and synaesthesia.

However, the characteristic that is most striking of this style is the “valorisation of form.” The complexity of the Baroque consists in the word games almost enigmatic, full of puns and the use of mixed semantic terms.

The theme of the text, the object is not named directly. Both in prose and in poetry, one can see the appreciation of the intellect in the development of a speech that should not be “commoner”, but “divine.”

In terms of ideas (Conceptism) and the level of words (Cultism) there is a rich effect in the rhetorical-psychological as well as the exploitation of bizarre “sound images”. It refers to the Art of sound images verging on obscurantism due to the linguistic complexity used. The use of words should reflect the “divine” and not “mundane”.

Precisely for this aspect that the post-Baroque style – Arcadia – criticized the Baroque rhetorical excess. The Baroque, above all, reflects a battle between a pre-capitalist Europe and aristocratic against the bourgeois rationalism at the time.

Gregorio de Matos: Mouth of Hell

Many scholars  consider Gregorio de Matos as the pioneer of Brazilian Literature. However, his work remained unpublished until the nineteenth century and only the beginning of the twentieth century is that he was published.

Gregorio (1636-1696) was a man who had a good humanistic training acquired at the University of Coimbra in Portugal.

His poetry is considered of high artistic level and is full of contradictions and has a theme that varied from what was the most “divine” to the must “mundane”. His influences are both conceptists (Quevedo), the cultists (Gongora). The diversity of his work was divided according to the themes developed in his life:

  • Sacred poetry: full of religious themes, constriction and moral reflection.
  • Satirical poem: as the name suggests, Matos made fun of everyone (which is why it was called Hell’s Mouth):  rich, poor, black, white, religious, politicians, friends and enemies. However, his satire was intended to criticize the “vices of society” which was composed of a gallery of types of individuals he met in Salvador (capital of Brazil at the time). He pointed to the moral decay through extremely mischievous humour.
  • Lyrical poetry: in which speaking about love, there was the idealization of the lover with a certain amount of cynicism.
  • Burlesque poetry: that which registered small events of everyday life in the city.

What’s common in this literature is the strength of the game sound (sometimes being debauched by assonance and alliteration, and other religious themes devoted through powerful metaphors), a very complex syntax and an incisive lexicon.

These three factors made Matos the greatest satirical poet of Brazil and perhaps in Portuguese literature.


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