The Promise of Asia
The Portuguese humanist João de Barros (1496–1570) frames the process of writing the history of Portugal's African and Asian empire as an effort to overcome human mortality and its unwanted consequences. Central to this framing, developed most extensively within the first prologue to Barros's Décadas da Ásia (Decades of Asia), is an explicit and complex reckoning with Alexander the Great—and in at least one instance, the text-mediated activities of those who worked to conjure up his ghost. From the very outset of his multivolume history, directly modeled on Livy's Histories of Rome, Barros works at a deep, philosophical level to theorize and defend the role of the historian within the broader workings of empire, even as he brings his considerable philosophical acumen to bear on the meaning of Portugal's path to (and through) empire in relation to being-in-the-world itself. The principal focus of Barros's Décadas is, as the work's title suggests, Portugal's Asian empire, which stretched along the western Indian coast, and extended eastward in a coastal and insular patchwork that reached as far as China and Timor.
Keywords: João de Barros, human mortality, Alexander the Great, Asian empire, Decades of Asia, Portugal