a myth well anchored in Portuguese culture is that of the Fifth Empire, Sebastianism, according to which “Portugal would have, for almost mystical reasons, a particular mission to fulfill in terms of civilization… It is true that, at the bottom of the Portuguese soul , the idea exists that we would be like a bridge thrown between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Are we not south of the north and north of the south?”
This quote from Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission and former Portuguese Prime Minister, perfectly sums up the myth of the Fifth Empire.
It is Gonçalo Yannes Bandarra, Portuguese-speaking co-ordinator and poet of the Renaissance, who is the author of these prophecies. He is also at the origin of “Sebastianism”, the myth of the great return of Sebastian, the Portuguese king who had disappeared, who would return on a foggy day on a majestic white horse to free his people from the yoke of impotence which has afflicted the Portuguese since centuries.
Bandarra predicts the fulfillment of his prophecy following the disappearance of the four monarchies of the Chaldeans (Babylonia), Persians, from Greeks and Romans. For him, this empire is that of the unification of Christianity by a messiah, Portuguese.
Father Antônio Vieira, in the 17th century, in a historical context of Spanish occupation, imbued with Faith and religious fervor, even fanaticism, even went so far as to propose the Iberian alliance to King John IV, then in full war with Spain.
He saw in this alliance the promise of the fulfillment of his conception of the Fifth Empire: the prosperous and resplendent Portugal of yesteryear. His love for his country and his desire for greatness for it condemned him to isolation. He bequeathed to us the idea of the impossible dream, the Portuguese fatality.
Fernando Pessoa continued to construct the myth of the Fifth Empire. In his collection, The Message, this masterpiece of 20th century Portuguese literature, he takes up the theme of Portuguese destiny in a nostalgic and melancholy tone, filled with the sadness of the past, of the Saudade.
In order to free the great Portuguese soul from its chimerical past, he proposes a more universalist conception of Vieira's prophecies by expressing his desire to see an empire of culture and spirituality flourish, in particular through the Portuguese language, the basis of homeland and social relations, accumulated tradition.
He praises a more universalist empire than that of Vieira, devoid of political and religious structures, imbued with individualism, a kind of state of mind. Pessoa asserted that he himself did not exist. Likewise, the empire he describes takes root in the Portuguese soul and unfolds in the rest of the universe, which then becomes the setting for the emancipation of the Saudade culture.