Prince of Abissinia Summary

  • Last updated on June 12, 2023

Title: The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia
Author: Samuel Johnson
Published: 1759
Genre: Philosophical fiction
Page length: 219


The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia is a philosophical novel by Samuel Johnson published in 1759. The novel tells the story of Rasselas, a young prince who is discontented with his luxurious life in the Happy Valley of Abissinia. Rasselas embarks on a journey with his sister, Nekayah, and their mentor, Imlac, to search for happiness and discover the meaning of life.

Part 1: Introduction

The novel begins with a description of the Happy Valley of Abissinia, a secluded paradise where Rasselas and his siblings have grown up and lived their entire lives. Despite their luxurious lifestyle, Rasselas and his sister Nekayah are discontented and seek to understand the nature of happiness.

Part 2: Journey to Cairo

To escape their gilded cage, Rasselas, his sister, and their mentor leave the Happy Valley to explore the world. They travel to Cairo and encounter various characters who provide insight into the human condition and the search for happiness.

Part 3: Reflections on Life

As they travel and meet different people, Rasselas and his companions engage in philosophical discussions on the nature of happiness. They visit a hermit, a philosopher, and a wealthy Arab, among others. They also visit a harem, where they learn about the pitfalls of love and desire.

Part 4: Return to Abissinia

After their journey, Rasselas and Nekayah return to Abissinia disillusioned with the world and its inability to provide the perfect happiness they had sought. In the end, Rasselas learns to accept his circumstances and find contentment in his own life.


Rasselas: The young prince who seeks to understand the purpose of life and find true happiness.

Nekayah: Rasselas' sister, who joins him on his journey and participates in philosophical discussions.

Imlac: A philosopher and mentor to Rasselas and Nekayah who accompanies them on their journey.


The novel explores various philosophical themes such as the nature of happiness, the meaning of life, and the pursuit of knowledge. It also delves into the human condition, desire, and the role of society in shaping our happiness.


The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia is significant for its philosophical insights into the human condition and the search for happiness. It is also notable as one of the earliest examples of philosophical fiction. Johnson's work influenced notable writers such as Goethe, Byron, and Tolstoy.

In conclusion, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia is a philosophical novel that tells the story of a young prince's search for true happiness and the meaning of life. It explores various philosophical themes and offers insights into the human condition. It is considered a significant work of literature and has influenced notable writers throughout history.

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