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Abstract

After the death of King Sebastian in the Battle of Alcazarquivir (1578), Portugal lost its independence, and the Avis dynasty ended. Many chronicles recounted the defeat, especially as the unwise Sebastian was said to have survived and imposters soon appeared. This article describes the intersection of two genres, epic poetry and poetic historiography, and how their conjunction in the Alcazarquivir chronicles, which were copied and modified for decades and centuries (in Spanish more than in Portuguese), shaped subsequent narratives. The chronicles also were a way of assessing good kingship, conspicuously absent in the case of Sebastian. Features from classical literature such as advice ignored, speeches on the eve of battle, letters of warning, natural omens, physical symbols of hubris, and bad news that cannot be believed are all prominent in the chronicles, which in many ways were collections of set pieces and stock characters. The accounts made order out of chaos and helped explain how the once glorious Portuguese, not well-loved by their Spanish neighbors, lost their African empire in a tragic reversal of fortune.