An Origin Story

Most people are probably at least vaguely familiar with the Cinderella story from Disney or some other similar version. The orphan girl meets the prince through various circumstances, help of a fairy godmother and a lost shoe and then they live happily ever after.

What many don’t realize is that the story is much older than that. The Disney version is mostly based off of the French version of the tale by Charles Perrault from 1697 but the original “Cinderella Story” was recorded much farther back. The story of Rhodopis and her lost sandal was written by the geographer Strabo around the 1st century AD.

In the story, Rhodopis was bathing in the Nile and an eagle picked up her sandal. The eagle dropped it in the lap of the king and he took this as a sign from the gods and searched until he found the owner of the sandal. He then made Rhodopis his queen.

While the Rhodopis in Strabo’s tale was based on a real person, this was not a real story. One of the most likely references that Strabo could have used is Herodotus who wrote about a Rhodopis from Thrace about five centuries before Strabo did. This Rhodopis was a slave along with the famous Aesop and after she was taken to Egypt was freed by the brother of the famous poetess Sappho. She was also believed to have become a famous courtesan and was mourned after her death.

The origin of the “fairy tale” of Cinderella who got her prince or king in this case has been around for a long time and has been reused over and over again. It’s sometimes used as a cautionary tale as the stepmother and stepsisters have been added in to show how greed works against people sometimes. But originally, the story was more straightforward and simple.