the three Princes of Serendip
The Three Princes of Serendip is an English version of an old Persian fairy tale Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo published by Michele Tramezzino in Venice in 1557. It consisted of various historical facts decorated by folklore and based upon the life of the Persian King Bahram V, the ruler of Sassanid Empire located largely in modern-day Iran and its neighboring region from 420-440AD. Also, how Serendipity came to be?
The story centers around three sons of a king, sent away from their kingdom, Serendippo in the far east. They decided to not travel as highborn princes, instead as common-men to avoid any special privileges. They soon realized, that traveling in this manner offered them much hardship and sufferings. But they also discovered, quite unexpectedly, great and wonderful good in the most absurd situations, places, and people.
They believed that a one-eyed lame camel holding containers of butter on one side and honey on its other, is carrying a pregnant women across the dessert. They later encountered a merchant to whom they report their observations. The merchant reacted outrageously and accused them of stealing the camel and took them to the local Emperor Beramo for punishment. In the court, they explained with their collective wisdom that helped them determine precisely the conclusions on the basis of the clues they observed on the disrupted track they were wandering on. Some of their supportive interferences include half eaten Grass from the side of the road where it was less green, indicating that the camel was blind from one eye; it carried butter on one side and honey on other was inferred from the fact that ants were attracted one side towards the butter and fly on the other towards the honey, etc. Rather than being punished, the three Princes were rewarded greatly and appointed as advisors to the Emperor.
The first usage of Serendipity
This story became popular in the world of English language as it acted as the source of the word Serendipity, coined by Horace Walpole, known for being an art historian, politician, antiquarian, revivalist of the Gothic style in architecture and was popularly called as the man of letters. He became intrigued with this Persian fairytale of the three princes of Serendip, (now Sri Lanka) traveled the world, “making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of…” Walpole proposed this new word.
In one of his 3000 letters, the word ‘serendipity’ appeared for the first time dated the 28th of January, 1754:
“this discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word.”
The growth of its popularity
Sometimes, great discoveries are made because of a serendipitous situation or observation. One great example of a serendipitous observation which led to a great discovery occurred in 1922 when Alexander Fleming came up with one of the greatest invention in medical science- penicillin. Other serendipitous discoveries were x-rays by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895, development of an injectable antibody inhibitor (Rhogam) for Rh disease in newborns by Cyril Astley Clarke during the First World War, etc.
It is only recently that serendipity has acquired its grand significance. The Oxford English Dictionary defines serendipity as “the faculty of making unexpected discoveries by accident.”