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Polymaths: Sir Richard Francis Burton

Classical Literature

Polymaths: Sir Richard Francis Burton

Sir Richard Francis Burton


By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB

Today we’ll be talking about Sir Richard Francis Burton, one of the greatest polymaths of the nineteenth century. The word polymath comes from the Greek πολυμαθής (“knowing much”) and refers to a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas.

Sir Richard Burton is, indeed, a good example of a real polymath, as he was an explorer, geographer, translator, Orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. Since he worked for the British diplomatic service, he was able to learn many languages and translate classics, which were completely unknown to Victorian Society. It was thanks to his work that the English-speaking world became familiar with literary pieces such as the Arabian Nights.

Below is an excerpt of The Lusíadas, a work often regarded as Portugal’s national epic. The author is the Portuguese poet Luis de Camões, another polymath who wrote in a style influenced by classical poets such as Homer and Vergil. The original verse is followed by Burton’s translation.

As armas e os barões assinalados,
Que da ocidental praia Lusitana,
Por mares nunca de antes navegados,
Passaram ainda além da Taprobana,
Em perigos e guerras esforçados,
Mais do que prometia a força humana,
E entre gente remota edificaram
Novo Reino, que tanto sublimaram…

“The feats of Arms, and famed heroick Host,
from occidental Lusitanian strand,
who o’er the waters ne’er by seaman crost,
farèd beyond the Taprobáne-land,
forceful in perils and in battle-post,
with more than promised force of mortal hand;
and in the regions of a distant race
rear’d a new throne so haught in Pride of Place…”

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André Bastos Gurgel
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Latin, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, and German and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. He has also worked as a tutor and teacher in a number of languages. Mr. Gurgel has been instrumental in expanding the Carmenta Online Latin School’s presence in a variety of social media.

Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.



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