The sheer number of variations of this fairy tale made it necessary to do this post in two parts. Look for part two next week.
Cinderella is one of the most recognized stories around the world. There’s much disagreement over how many versions exist, but the numbers range from 340 to over 2,000.
The story of Rhodopis, the Ancient Egyptian version of Cinderella, recorded by the Roman historian Strabo in the first century BC, is considered the oldest version of the story.
Rhodopis was born in Greece but was kidnapped by pirates and carried to Egypt where she was sold into slavery. Her owner was a kind old man but the other servant girls in the house taunted and teased Rhodopis because she looked so different. Because she had pale skin that burnt easily in the sun they called her Rosy Rhodopis.
Not surprisingly, she had no human friends only the animals. Sometimes, if she had any energy left from the hard day's work, she would sing and dance for her animal friends on the river bank. One evening as she was dancing the old man saw her and admired her so much he decided she deserved a special pair of shoes. The shoes were gilded with rose-red gold and the soles were leather.
One day, they received word that the Pharaoh was holding court in Memphis. Everyone in the kingdom was invited. The other servant girls attended, leaving Rhodopis behind with a whole list of chores. As she was washing clothes on the river bank, her slippers got wet. Wiping them off, she placed them in the sun to dry. As she turned back to her chores, a falcon (familiar of the god Horus) swooped down and carried off one of her slippers.
Back in Memphis, the Pharaoh was sitting on his throne when suddenly a falcon swooped down and dropped a slipper in his lap. Knowing this to be a sign from Horus, he decreed that all maidens in Egypt must try on the slipper and that the owner would be his queen. Eventually his search led him to Rhodopis, and when the slipper fit and she was declared his queen, the servant girls protested, saying not only was she a slave, she wasn’t even Egyptian. The Pharaoh replied: "She is the most Egyptian of all...for her eyes are as green as the Nile, her fair as feathery as papyrus, and her skin the pink of a lotus flower."
Rhodopis, full text version
A Chinese version of the story, by Tuan Ch'eng-Shih, appeared around 860. In this tale, the girl’s parents die and the girl is abused by her step-mother and her half-sister. Her mother is reborn as a fish, but is killed by the step-mother. A spirit tells the girl to save the bones of the fish and they will grant her magical wishes. When it’s time for the spring festival, the girl is left at home but the magic fish bones create a set of beautiful clothes, including a pair of gold slippers .
She goes to the festival and has a good time until she thinks her stepmother may have recognized her, so she leaves, accidentally leaving behind a golden slipper. The golden slipper is found and finally reaches the hands of a nearby King. Taken by its tiny size, he proclaims he will marry the girl whom the slipper fits. Eventually the shoe reaches the house where the girl is and after her step-mother and half-sister fail to fit the shoe she slips it on and it fits perfectly.
The step-mother tries to persuade the King that the girl is not the one he seeks, but the King sees through her attempts and punishes her by forbidding the girl to bring her stepfamily to live with them. Instead they’re banished to a cave where they live until the are crushed to death by stones.
Ye XianWikipedia version
Ye Xian, a slightly different version
The earliest European tale, "La Gatta Cenerentola" or "The Hearth Cat", was written in 1634 by the Italian fairy-tale collector Giambattista Basile. It featured a wicked step mother and step sisters, magical transformations, a missing slipper, and a hunt by a king for the owner of the slipper. This one differs slightly from the earlier tales as the fish is replaced by a magical date tree and she has six nasty step-sisters.
La Gatta Cenerentola, full text version
In Rushen Coatie, a Scottish version of the tale, the dead mother comes back in the form of a cow to feed her starving child — until the suspicious step–sisters discover this and have it killed. The animal's bones retain the potent magic of the dead woman, providing the girl with clothes so that she can go to church and meet her prince.
Rushen Coatie, full text version
One of the most popular versions of Cinderella was written by Charles Perrault in 1697. It is believed this popularity was due to his additions to the story including the pumpkin, the fairy-godmother and the introduction of glass slippers.
Cinderella, full text version
Another well-known version, which is the one I’m most familiar with, was recorded by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812. The tale is called "Aschenputtel" and the help comes not from a fairy-godmother but from a hazel tree that grows on her mother's grave. In this version, the stepsisters try to trick the prince by cutting off parts of their feet in order to get the slipper to fit. As the prince rides past the hazel tree with first one then a second false bride he is warned by a pair of birds and in the end finds his true bride. The birds peck out the stepsisters’ eyes and they become beggars for the rest of their lives.
Aschenputtel, full text
Next week we'll go into some detail about the origins and changes made to Cinderella.