Samuel Johnson Notes    

Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia

"Every man ought to read Rasselas and every wise man willread it over half a dozen times in his life.  Indeed, a man would de well to read it once a year at least, for never was wisdom better put."
- Hilaire Belloc
Johnson's only extended prose fiction is Rasselas, published in 1759, apparently to defray
the costs of his mother's funeral. In the episodic plot, four seekers travel through Egypt The proper term for Rasselas' genre is sometimes disputed: it's probably most often called an Oriental tale, but some prefer to see it as a Menippean or Varronian satire.

To me, the major philosophical influence on this fable is Ecclesiastes. As you can see from the brief excerpt, Ecclesiastes, like Rasselas, centers on an experiment in living.  Both examine various lifestyles and try to determine which is the best.  Both consider all to be vanity.

Rasselas & his group never discover a life that will make them happy.  And while they are searching, time is passing.  He is well over 30 by the end of the story, and still unable to decide what to do with his life.  As chapter 30 notes, "while you are making the choice of life, you are neglecting to live."  Maybe there's fulfillment in groping.

For your increased reading and testing pleasure, fill in the following identifications as you read.

The Arab chief
The astronomer
The Bassa of Egypt
The choice of life
The Happy Valley
The hermit
The professor