Damião de Góis

Damiao de Góis (February 2, 1502-January 30, 1574) born in Alenquer, Portugal, was an important Portuguese humanist philosopher. He was a friend and student of Erasmus. He was appointed secretary to a Portuguese trading post in Antwerp in 1523 by King John III of Portugal. He compiled one of the first accounts on Ethiopian Christianity.

Alleged portrait of Góis
attributed to Albrecht Dürer
(Österr. Staatsgalerie Albertina, Vienna)


Góis (also Goes) was born in Alenquer, Portugal, into a noble family who served the Portuguese kings – the grandfather, Gomes Dias de Góis, had been in the entourage of Prince Henry the Navigator. Around 1518 Góis joined the court of King Manuel I of Portugal. Under Manuel I’s successor, King John III of Portugal, in 1523, he was sent to Antwerp, as secretary and treasurer of the Portuguese feitoria (factory, trading post and commercial office). Henceforth, Góis travelled intensely (Poland, Lithuania, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, France, Italy), entering into contact with a number of important figures, like Sebastian Münster, Erasmus (who hosted him in Freiburg), Ramusio, Philipp Melanchthon and Martin Luther. Among the many Portuguese acquaintances, Góis was friend of the writers João de Barros and André de Resende. A humanist and an open mind, Góis followed courses at the Universities of Padua and Leuven, wrote on various topics, like the condition of the Sami people (Lapps), and translated some classic works – among them, Cicero’s Cato maior de senectute – into Portuguese. He was also a composer of some musical pieces and kept a private collection of paintings.

Góis translated into Latin a Portuguese opuscle on the Ethiopian embassy of the Armenian Mateus (the representative of the Negus Dawit II) to Portugal (1532), which also included the famous “Letter of Prester John” written by the Ethiopian Queen Eleni (1509) and a “Confessio illorum fidei”.

In 1538 he took a Dutch wife, Joana de Hargen. In 1540 he published the famous Fides, religio, moresque Aethiopum. The book received a widespread diffusion in Europe, in both Catholic and Protestant circles, and enjoyed of successive editions (Paris-1541, Leuven-1544, Leiden-1561, Cologne-1574). It also earned the author, however, the criticisms of the powerful Portuguese Cardinal Henry of Portugal, who, as Grand Inquisitor of the Portuguese Inquisition, banned its circulation in the kingdom. The Jesuit order proved equally critical, as he was accused by the Provincial superior Simão Rodrigues of Lutheranism before the Inquisition.

In 1548, Góis was named Guarda Mor (High Guardian) of the Torre do Tombo (Royal Archives) and ten years later was entrusted by the same Cardinal Henry to write the chronicle of Manuel I’s reign. The work was completed in some seven years and became his major achievement. He also published a description of the city of LisbonUrbis Olisiponis Descriptio (1554).

In 1570 the inquisitorial process opened again, sending Góis to reclusion in the monastery of Batalha. He died shortly after in Alenquer under mysterious circumstances (apparently, murder), free but sick. Góis had eight sons.

Books by Góis


  • Legatio Magni Indorum Imperatoris Presbyteri Ioannis ... (Antwerp 1532; new ed. in: Elizabeth B. Blackburn, “The Legacy of ‘Prester John’”, Moreana 4, 1967, 37–98)
  • Ecclesiastes de Salamam, com algũas annotações neçessarias (Venezia, 1538; new ed. by T. F. Earle, O Livro de Eclesiastes, Lisboa, 2002)
  • ''Livro de Marco Tullio Ciçeram chamado Catam maior, ou da velhiçe, dedicado a Tito Pomponio Attico (Venezia, 1538)
  • Fides, religio, moresque Aethiopum ... (Lovanii 1540; Parisiis ²1541; German tr. Wiesbaden 1999)
  • Deploratio Lappianae gentis (Lovanii 1540)
  • Urbis Olisiponis descriptio (Évora, 1554; Frankfurt, 1603; Coimbra, 1791; Eng. tr. New York, 1996)
  • Crónica do Felicíssimo Rei D. Manuel (Lisboa 1566–67; ²1619; Coimbra 1926)
  • Crónica do Principe D. João (Lisboa, 1567; new ed. by Graça Almeida Rodrigues, Lisboa, 1977)
  • As cartas latinas de Damião de Góis, ed. by Amadeu Torres, in Noese e crise na epistolografia latina goisiana (Paris, 1982)


  • Damião de Góis, Lisbon in the Renaissance. A New Translation of the Urbis Olisiponis Descriptio by Jeffey S. Ruth (New York: 1996)
  • Jean Aubin, “Damião de Góis dans une Europe Évangelique”, in: Id., Le latin et l’astrolabe, Lisboa – Paris 1996, 211–35
  • Jeremy Lawrance, “The Middle Indies: Damião de Góis on Preseter John and the Ethiopians”, Renaissance Studies, 6 (1992), 306-24
  • Elisabeth Feist Hirsch, Damião de Gois (Lisboa, 1987)
  • Damião de Góis: humaniste européen, ed. by J. V. de Pina Martins (Braga, 1982)
  • Marcel Bataillon, “Le cosmopolitisme de Damião de Góis”, in: Id., Etudes sur le Portugal au temps de l’humanisme, Coimbra 1952, 149–96
  • “Góis, Damião de”, in: Grande enciclopédia Portuguesa e Brasileira, Lisboa – Rio de Janeiro 1935–60, 494–97.

Chamber Opera

  • "Melodias estranhas", chamber opera by António Chagas Rosa on a libretto by Gerrit Komrij. 2001.

External links

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