The Egyptian and Chinese Cinderella Stories vie for which one came first. The fact that the Egyptian Cinderella is based on a real person makes me believe that maybe this storyline is the real beginning!
In 5th Century (B.C.E.) Herodotus, the “father of history” wrote nine volumes describing the people and places that he encountered on his journey through the Mediterranean, including a snippet on Rhodopis.
Herodotus wrote that she was a Thracian Slave (a civilization that once thrived in the area now known as Bulgaria). Her fair skin and blond curly hair caught the eye of of the slave trade. Herodotus described her in Volume 2 of his history as a fellow slave of Aesop (as in Aesop’s fables. Did you know he was a slave? Neither did I!!) According to Herodotus she was a courtesan, in other words the first Cinderella was a prostitute! Interesting huh? I’m sure I will not be teaching that bit of information to my children until they are a bit older and able to understand that back in ancient times beautiful slaves ended up being used as courtesans’ or prostitutes. She eventually gained her freedom from Mytilene, who happened to be Sappho, the poets, brother. Sappho didn’t approve, but that is neither here nor there. Rhodopis ended up being very well off and there are those that believed he spearheaded the building of one of the Egyptian pyramids.
If you are anything like me the exact telling from Herodotus himself is rather intriguing and I have included a link for those that want to pore through his narrative. It is section 134-135 in Volume 2. The History of Herodotus
In the first century AD the Roman historian Strabo took Herodotus historical tidbit and created the first Cinderella story. He tells a story of a beautiful slave – Rhodopis. She is hated by the other slaves and made to do more than her fair share of the work (sound familiar?). On her own time she likes to dance and one day she is seen dancing by some guy who then makes her a beautiful pair of shoes. One day her shoes get wet and as she leaves them out to dry a falcon takes off with them. They are found by a prince who makes all the girls try it on to see if it fits. Guess who the shoe fits and marries the prince? Yup, Rhodopis.
Here is a link to Strabo’s version Rhodopis
Shirley Climo takes Starbo’s narrative and tweaks it here and there, but pretty much stays true to the storyline. She modified a few phrases to make the story her own, for example Climo describes the emotions felt by Rhodopis when she lost one of her beloved shoes. Starbo just states that she put the other shoe in her tunic, Clomo added the folowing: “Rhodopis tucked the slipper into her tunic and returned to her laundry, salting the river with her tears.” Nice imagery there!!!!
The illustrator, Ruth Heller, brought the story to life with vibrant colors. I love how the faces of each person is in profile, just as they were depicted in ancient Egypt! Incorporating words with pictures aid children not only in building comprehension as they begin to read, but also adds interest.
Climo, Shirley (1989). The Egyptian Cinderella. HarperCollins Publishers.
New World Encyclopedia – Herodotus
The History of Herodotus parallel English/Greek English translation: G. C. Macaulay, (pub. Macmillan, London and NY)