“Let it be remembered that events narrated in this chronicle – full of veracity, albeit lacking in brilliance – took place during the worst years of the military dictatorship and the most rigid censorship of the press. There was a hidden reality, a secret country that didn’t get into the news. The newsrooms of newspapers and radio and television stations found themselves restricted to covering generally unexpected events. Their editorial pages were reduced to unconditional praise for the system of government and those who governed.” Jorge Amado

In the epigraph above, the narrator of The War of the Saints, written by Jorge Leal Amado de Faria (Jorge Amado) in 1988, sets his narrative – ‘lacking in brilliance’ but filled (ostensibly) with the stuff of social and cultural narrative – against a backdrop of the ‘hidden reality’, the ‘secret country that didn’t even get into the news’. In the passage that follows the epigraph, the narrator goes on to elaborate on the ‘total prohibition of any reportage that carried the slightest allusion to the daily imprisonments, torture, political murders, and violation of human rights’. Historical events under the regime remained outside of the official accounts of newspapers. The narrator of The War of the Saints seems to implicitly criticize journalists for their reportage of ‘recipes’, ‘poems, ballads, odes, sonnets by classical poets, and stanzas from The Lusiads’ (that is, from Luís Vaz de Camões’ 1572 Homeric-Virgilian epic of the Portuguese colonial conquests), and yet the narrative is no weightier, politically potent or consequential than those topics. In fact, given the repeated – though subtle – references to classical stories such as Theseus, or to figures like Aphrodite and Menelaus, the novel might be read epic terms alongside the Portuguese The Lusiads, rather than as an insignificant, quotidian tale. Nevertheless, as is the case with literature under many repressive regimes throughout history, the façade of myth and fairytale – the allegory – to some extent conceals the potential subversiveness of the material.

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Copyright © 2016 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. This book chapter first appeared in Ancient Greek Myth in World Fiction since 1989.

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