The History of Rasselas: Prince of Abissinia

The History of Rasselas: Prince of Abissinia Character List


The protagonist of the novel, he is the son of an emperor and confined to the happy valley until ready to rule. He resents this situation and devises a way to leave and travel the world. Once outside, he explores a number of avenues in his quest to discover what his "choice of life" ought to be, and what will make him happy on earth. He is generally smart, keen-witted, and rational, and submits to the guidance of Imlac. He ultimately decides to return to Abissinia. Although he would wish to run a little kingdom according to his ideas of governance, his ultimate fate is unknown.

The Emperor

The ruler of Abissinia who decrees that, according to tradition, his children should stay ensconced in the happy valley. He visits infrequently and they do not have much of a relationship.


The sister of Rasselas, she accompanies him out of the happy valley and seeks to learn what might bring about happiness on earth. She possesses some of the mindset and trappings of wealth and aristocracy, but learns that they do not bring about happiness. She is also used by Johnson as an example of how one must take care in approaching grief and suffering; the loss of Pekuah is particularly hard for her. By the end of the novel she hopes to start a college for women, but apparently abandons the idea.

The Master

One of Rasselas's teachers, he spies on him to learn the cause of his misery and encourages him to be happy and ignore his misgivings about the valley.

The Bassa

A Turkish-appointed viceroy and the highest title of honor in the Ottoman Empire. The Bassa was often assumed to be corrupt and despotic. This one is caught up in his own affairs and does little to help out his subjects.

The Artist

Also known as the engineer, he creates a flying contraption and believes whole-heartedly that it will work. Rasselas is intrigued by the man and admires his courage, but the contraption fails and the artist plunges into the lake.


A wise philosopher, Imlac befriends and subsequently counsels Rasselas and his sister. He is the son of a wealthy man and was encouraged to use his life to make money, but Imlac devotes his life to travel and the pursuit of knowledge. He is frank in his assertion that there is nothing in life that can be counted on to bring about happiness, and seeks to keep Rasselas and Nekayah rational, thoughtful, and perspicacious.

Imlac's Father

A wealthy and honest merchant, he wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and increase the family wealth. He gave him gold and told him to do with it what he wished, as a sort of test, which allowed Imlac to go out into the world to travel and learn. Imlac never saw him again.


Nekayah's favorite companion, she notably gets abducted by the Arabs and spends time in their society. She is smart and savvy, and begins to enjoy her education in astronomy. She parlays that into meeting with the astronomer. Her great goal, though, is peace and quiet, and if given her choice of life, she would reside in the monastery where she was exchanged for ransom.

The Arab

The chieftain by whose orders Pekuah and her maids are abducted, he is chivalrous and intelligent but motivated by money. He treats Pekuah well, finds her more interesting than his own women, and teaches her astronomy. He eventually frees her for a ransom.

The Astronomer

A learned man who lives and works in solitude, he befriends Imlac and confesses his secret to him - that he is in control of the weather. This lapse of mental clarity is a lesson regarding the folly of solitude. He is eventually brought back to sanity through the visits of Pekuah and Nekayah, and his engagement in the pursuits of life once more.