This Egyptian fable might be the oldest (and original) version of the Cinderella story.

Cinderella was a maiden who was always mistreated by her step-family. One fateful day, her fairy godmother magically adorned her in a beautiful gown, a pumpkin-shaped carriage, and a pair of glass slippers so she’d be able to attend the Prince’s ball. She finally caught his eye, but had to flee before the magic worn out. She left one of her glass slippers behind, and the Prince scour the country until he found the perfect foot that it fits; they marry and lived happily ever after.

This is not the only version of the story, (and certainly not the original). This ancient Egyptian version from the first century in the Common Era (C.E) might be the origin story. Dear friends, meet the Cinderella family of stories.

Related media: Rhodopis

The Rhodopis Story

According to the Greek historian Strabo, Rhodopis was a beautiful courtesan who happened to be bathing in her hometown of Naucratis when one of her sandals was snatched by a passing eagle. The eagle then flew to Memphis, and dropped it on the Pharaoh who was hearing a dispute in the open. Upon seeing the strange footwear and how sudden the occurrence was, he ordered his men to scour the countryside until they found the one it fit.

Image: Alchetron | Rhodopis, the Egyptian version of Cinderella

And as the story goes, they found the courtesan and brought her back to the Pharaoh, they married and lived happily ever after. Of course, this is how it all has to begin and end: a maiden betrothed to a lord upon finding her mystical footwear after a witch-hunt for the right set of feet that fits them. Seems pretty cute! But not everybody agrees, however.

Whence Cometh Cinderella?

In the writings of Joshua J. Mark for the Ancient History Encyclopedia, he notes that the version of the Rhodopis story above is actually from a much later source. And in 1920, the children story writer Olive Beaupre Miller included this same story in an anthology of fairytales which had a lot more similarities with Disney’s Cinderella story we now know of. Instead of a courtesan, Rhodopis is a fair young maiden who even has conversations with animals.

As a matter of fact, there really was a courtesan known a Rhodopis who lived approximately 700 years before Strabo in Thrace, and not ancient Egypt. As Mark points out, the connection between Rhodopis and Cinderella was as a matter of coincidence — largely due to later authors (starting with Strabo and coming all the way down to Miller) — conflating a real person for ancient mythical tales. However, we’re not here to argue about who’s right or wrong; and even if Strabo made up the story, it could have indeed triggered later variations of the fairytale.

Image: Azaleas Dolls | Cinderella as the ancient Egyptian courtesan Rhodopis.

Meet The Cinderella Family

Perhaps, Rhodopis might not be the first Cindy, however, the Cindy we all know and love today has a whole lot of cousins from all walks of life. Meet the Cinderella family.

#1. Cendrillon (France, 1697)

This is the oldest version that’s quite similar to Disney’s movie — you don’t need a French lesson or squint too much to notice it. The author Charles Perrault introduces the fairy godmother, the pumpkin-shaped carriage, and even the glass slippers. What a write-novation! But here’s the catch: her stepsisters apologize for being the worst and then go on to marry princes of their own. Win-win!

#2. Ye Xian (China, 618 and 907 C.E.)

Cinderella usually talks to a mouse named Gus, but Ye Xian’s bestie is a talking fish — who was unceremoniously killed by her stepmother and fed to her stepsisters. But then both of them get stoned to death after Ye Xian wishes on the bones of the fish to be able to attend the ball. That’s grimm!

#3. Aschenputtel (Germany, 1812)

This version of the Cindy story is the Grimm version of them all. In this version her name literally means “Ash Fool.” Yikes! Little Aschen spends all day crying besides her mother’s grave which causes the growth of a magic mythical tree, which then turns into everything she needs for the ball. You know the rest.

#4. Cenerentola (Italy, 1634)

This is the grimmest version of the Cindy story you always wanted. It starts with a maiden known as Zezolla, who was convinced by her governess to kill her stepmother. So she does, and the governess promptly moves in with her six daughters. Then all the magic happens. You know the rest, but she was never convicted for murder, though.

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Thu, Aug 20, 2020.


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