- The Three Princes of Serendip
The Three Princes of Serendip is an old
Persian fairy taleabout three men who were on a mission but they always found something that was irrelevant but needed in reality. They discovered things by good fortune and sagacity. Serendip is the Persian name for Sri Lanka. The word serendipitywas coined by Horace Walpole, based on this story. [cite book | last = Yallop | first = C | authorlink = Macquarie Dictionary | coauthors = | title = Macquarie Dictionary, Fourth Edition | publisher = The Macquarie Library pty Ltd | date = 2005 | location = Sydney, NSW, Australia | pages = 1290 | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = 876429 14 3 ]
In the camel story, the Three Princes use trace clues to precisely identify a camel they have never seen: they conclude that the camel is lame; blind in one eye; missing a tooth; carrying a pregnant maiden; and bearing honey on one side and butter on the other. (See
Abductive reasoning.) Because of their cleverness and sagacity, they are accused of stealing the camel and are about to be put to death by Bahram Gur. Suddenly, and without anyone seeking him out, a traveler steps forward to say that he has just seen the missing camel wandering in the desert. Bahram spares the lives of the Three Princes, lavishes them with rich rewards and appoints them as his advisors. These rewards are the unsought (serendipitous) results of their sagacious insights.
There are other examples of the Princes receiving unsought rewards (marriage to a beautiful princess, kingdoms, wealth, etc.) from their accidental discoveries. The fact that they can make clever or accidental discoveries and breakthroughs is a result of their intelligence, wisdom and reasoning. The unsought rewards come later. Thus, stumbling upon a captive slave girl in a forest is for them a serendipitous occurrence.
The fairy tale "The Three Princes of Serendip" is based upon the life of Persian King
Bahram V, who ruled the Sassanid Empire( 420– 440). Stories of his rule are told in epic poetry of the region ( Firdausi's " Shahnameh" of 1010, Nizami's "Haft Paykar" of 1197, Khusrau's Hasht Bihisht of 1302), parts of which are based upon historical facts with embellishments derived from folklore going back hundreds of years to oral traditions in India and " The Book of One Thousand and One Nights". With the exception of the well-known camel story, English translations are very hard to come by.
The fable of a camel blind in one eye is included in the
Talmud, attributed to Rabbi Yochanan:
:Rava relates the following in the name of Rabbi Yochanan:—“Two Jewish slaves were one day walking along, when their master, who was following, overheard the one saying to the other, ‘There is a camel ahead of us, as I judge—for I have not seen—that is blind of one eye and laden with two skin-bottles, one of which contains wine and the other oil, while two drivers attend it, one of them an Israelite, and the other a Gentile.’ ‘You perverse men,’ said their master, ‘how can you fabricate such a story as that?’ The slave answered, and gave this as his reason, ‘The grass is cropped only on one side of the track, the wine, that must have dripped, has soaked into the earth on the right, and the oil has trickled down, and may be seen on the left; while one of the drivers turned aside from the track to ease himself, but the other has not even left the road for the purpose.’ Upon this the master stepped on before them in order to verify the correctness of their inferences, and found the conclusion true in every particular. He then turned back, and…after complimenting the two slaves for their shrewdness, he at once gave them their liberty.”:"Sanhedrin, fol. 104, col. 2." [ [http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/hl/hl05.htm Hebraic Literature: Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim, and Kabbala] , chapter II]
* [http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/serendip/about.html The meanings of "Serendip"]
* [http://www.amazon.com/dp/0689201672/ Link to Amazon listing of "The Three Princes of Serendip", by Elizabeth Jamison Hodges (out of print)]
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