Ancient Hellas was the birthplace of a lot of things, but did you know that the story of Cinderella also has its foundations in Hellenic mythology?

Cinderella, or 'The Little Glass Slipper', is a European folk tale. The best known version of it was written by the Brothers Grimm in their folk tale collection Grimms' Fairy Tales, although most of us will know it best from the Disney movie of the same name. It's the tale of a kind-hearted young woman whose father marries a woman with two daughters of her own. Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters are wicked and treat her like a slave, yet they cannot stop her from attending the King's ball. During the ball, Cinderella loses her (glass) slipper as she hurried to make it out of the palace by the midnight curfew, and the prince finds her slipper, scouring the land for the woman it fits because he fell for her right away. Once he finds Cinderella, they marry and live happy ever after. The end.

Now, back to ancient Hellas where the first Cinderella and her slipper: the Hellenic geographer Strabo first recorded the tale of the Greco-Egyptian girl Rhodopis (Ροδώπις) in his Geographica. The story goes as follows: Rhodopis, a courtesan, was bathing. An eagle snatched one of her shoes from her maid, carried it to Memphis, and dropped it into the lap of the king (named Psammetichus in Aelian's account written in his 'Various History', book 13, chapter 33). The king searched for the owner of the shoe. He found Rhodopis in Naukratis (Ναύκρατις), and married her.

"High up, approximately midway between the sides, it has a movable stone, and when this is raised up there is a sloping passage to the vault. Now these pyramids are near one another and on the same level; but farther on, at a greater height of the hill, is the third, which is much smaller than the two, though constructed at much greater expense; for from the foundations almost to the middle it is made of black stone, the stone from which mortars are made, being brought from a great distance, for it is brought from the mountains of Aethiopia; and because of its being hard and difficult to work into shape it rendered the undertaking very expensive. It is called "Tomb of the Courtesan," having been built by her lovers — the courtesan whom Sappho the Melic poetess calls Doricha, the beloved of Sappho's brother Charaxus, who was engaged in transporting Lesbian wine to Naucratis for sale, but others give her the name Rhodopis.
They tell the fabulous story that, when she was bathing, an eagle snatched one of her sandals from her maid and carried it to Memphis; and while the king was administering justice in the open air, the eagle, when it arrived above his head, flung the sandal into p95his lap; and the king, stirred both by the beautiful shape of the sandal and by the strangeness of the occurrence, sent men in all directions into the country in quest of the woman who wore the sandal; and when she was found in the city of Naucratis, she was brought up to Memphis, became the wife of the king, and when she died was honoured with the above-mentioned tomb." [33]

Naukratis, loosely translated as '(the city that wields) power over ships', was a city of Ancient Egypt, on the Canopic branch of the Nile river and the later capital of Ptolemaic Egypt, Alexandria. It was the first and, for much of its early history, the only permanent Hellenic colony in Egypt.

Herodotos told the story of the slave Rhodopis in his 'Histories' almost five centuries before Strabo, without referring to any element of the Cinderella tale. He wrote that she was a beautiful Thracian courtesan, acquainted with the ancient story-teller Aesop. Later on, she was taken to Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Amasis (570–536 BC), and freed there for a large sum by Charaxus of Mytilene, brother of Sappho, the lyric poet.

"[F]or very many years later than these kings who left the pyramids came Rhodopis, who was Thracian by birth, and a slave of Iadmon son of Hephaestopolis the Samian, and a fellow-slave of Aesop the story-writer. For he was owned by Iadmon, too, as the following made crystal clear: when the Delphians, obeying an oracle, issued many proclamations summoning anyone who wanted it to accept compensation for the killing of Aesop, no one accepted it except the son of Iadmon's son, another Iadmon; hence Aesop, too, was Iadmon's. Rhodopis came to Egypt to work, brought by Xanthes of Samos, but upon her arrival was freed for a lot of money by Kharaxus of Mytilene, son of Scamandronymus and brother of Sappho the poetess. Thus Rhodopis lived as a free woman in Egypt, where, as she was very alluring, she acquired a lot of money—sufficient for such a Rhodopis, so to speak, but not for such a pyramid. Seeing that to this day anyone who likes can calculate what one tenth of her worth was, she cannot be credited with great wealth.

For Rhodopis desired to leave a memorial of herself in Greece, by having something made which no one else had thought of or dedicated in a temple and presenting this at Delphi to preserve her memory; so she spent one tenth of her substance on the manufacture of a great number of iron beef spits, as many as the tenth would pay for, and sent them to Delphi; these lie in a heap to this day, behind the altar set up by the Chians and in front of the shrine itself. The courtesans of Naucratis seem to be peculiarly alluring, for the woman of whom this story is told became so famous that every Greek knew the name of Rhodopis, and later on a certain Archidice was the theme of song throughout Greece, although less celebrated than the other." [2.134.3 - 2.135.5]

So, there you go, another mythological and historical titbit to share at birthday parties and impress your friends. I bet you are looking at Cinderella different now.

Image source: Wikipedia.