Original Story of Cinderella

Almost all of us have seen or heard about the story of Cinderella, the oppressed and kind-hearted girl who finally gets a happy life after a lot of struggle. The reason behind the massive popularity of Cinderella is because Disney made a few movies about it. Cinderella is counted as a fairy tale because it has the tropes of one. But have you ever wondered where the original story of Cinderella came from? Was it even real? We set to find more details about the original story of Cinderella and what we found was surprising, and even macabre. You won’t believe that a fairy tale that is mostly targeted towards children could have such a harrowing ending.

We’ll discuss about all these versions of Cinderella in the later sections. But since you came for the original story of Cinderella, we will put that in the next section of the article so that you can get what you came looking for. But it’d be interesting read more about the interesting tale of this girl, all the variations in the different versions. And of course, the version which inspired the famous Disney movie which garnered a massive popularity. Let’s begin with the original story of Cinderella.

Original Story of Cinderella
Illustration of Cinderella . Image : Charles Robinson, illustrator. Public Domain

The Original Story of Cinderella.

One cannot assume that the original story of Cinderella would have pumpkins turned to cars and a magical fairy appearing to help a helpless girl. The true story of Cinderella did not have most of the elements that the fairy tale versions have. The true story actually inspired the core of the fairy tale, the slippers. Let’s travel back in time, around 7 BCE, in Egypt. 

The tale that most probably inspired the story of Cinderella was the one of a girl named Rhodopis. It was recorded by Strabo and it tells the story of a Greek courtesan who married the king of Egypt because of her slippers. This story was recored in Strabo’s book, Geographica. 

The word Rhodopis means “Rosy cheeks,” perhaps to describe the appearance of the girl. Unlike the story version, Rhodopis wasn’t ill-treated or neglected. In fact it had no element of the story of a persecuted heroine. The story goes like this; One day, in the city of Naucratis, an eagle snatched the slippers of Rhodopis. It flew but after some time, the slippers were dropped. The slippers landed right near King Memphis. Memphis was out in the open, taking a tour of his kingdom and administrating justice. The slippers caught his attention and maybe because he thought that the slippers were dropped there on some purpose, he sent his men to look for the bearer of the slippers. 

The Slippers of Rhodopis.
Some old pair of sandals from Egypt. Probably the one in the story looked like this. Image : Daderot. public domain.

After a long search, the men were finally able to find Rhodopis and she was brought to the king. The King then decided to marry the courtesan and she became the Queen. From rags to riches by a pair of misplaced slippers. This same story was also reported by the Roman orator Aelian but he said that the king was not Memphis, but Psammetichus. Kings may have been different but the story did happen.

Now it wasn’t an oppressed girl in a mean family of step-mother and step-sisters, but the search for the woman because of slippers and then changing her life is the part very similar to the Cinderella story. This was the original story of Cinderella. Now that is out of the way, why don’t we discuss some interesting versions of this story? In one version, there a lot of blood and gory involved. Ready? Let’s begin.

The Chinese Cinderella 

Before the Europeans or the Grimm Brothers thought of writing a story with the theme of lost slippers, a Chinese poet constructed a story around that. This story involved magic and misfortune, and eventually, happy forever. This was the story of Ye Xian and this resembles the modern version of Cinderella a lot. It goes like this;

Ye Xian was the daughter of a local tribe leader. The tribe leader’s first wife and Ye Xian’s mother had died already and  the tribe leader died too, leaving Ye Xian in the not-so-caring hands of her step-mother. Xian also had step-sister who were equally mean to her. Her step-mother abused and mistreated Xian. This pain made her seek solitude and that was where she befriends a fish.

This fish is actually her dead mother. But since her step-mother is an insufferably horrible woman, she kills the fish too. But the fish was magical and so was its bones. The bones turn into beautiful clothes and a pair of golden slippers. Ye Xian wears them and goes to the festival hosted by the King. The king falls in love with her but she flees, leaving her slippers there. The king finds her with the help of the slippers and marries her. Happy ever after.

This trope of a younger, mistreated sibling who then becomes very happy with a change of fortune has been in many stories. There are Japanese stories, Arabian stories, etc with the same theme. 

The Italian Cinderella 

Written by Basile, this version of the story is called Cenerentola and has Zezolla as the sweet and kind-hearted girl. This version of the story is a bit more convoluted and is actually a lot different in terms of the little things. Let’s begin.

Zezolla was the daughter of a prince and also had a governess. The governess managed to convince Zezolla to convince her father to marry the governess. But after the prince marries her, she brings her own daughters, six of them. Zezolla is sent to the kitchen and is subjected to torture and bad behavior. 

Original Story of Cinderella
The scene where Cinderella runs from the Ball

Her father in one of his journeys, meets a fairy who gives his a golden spade, a golden bucket and a date seedling. When he returns, Zezolla gets the date seedling which she plants and takes good care of. The date seed grows into a plant and a fairy starts living there. 

During the ball event hosted by the King, she gets dressed up by the fairy. Then the similar story that we know continues. King falls in love with her, she leaves the place but her slippers are left behind. The king uses the slippers to find the girl. When he goes to Zezolla, the slippers magically jump out of his hands and goes to Zezolla’s feet.

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The French Cinderella.

This story is the one that inspired the Disney movies. So for the Disney version of Cinderella, you can say this was the original story. Written by Charles Perrault, the name of the story was, pardon my French, Cendrillon ou la Petite Pantoufle de Verre. In this story we get to know why she is called “Cinderella.” The name comes from Cinder or ash. That is because she used be covered in ash while working in the kitchen. It was a name given to her by her step-sisters.

Here, Cinderella is a sweet and kind-hearted girl who suffers bad treatment and insult from her step-mother and step-sisters. Then the prince invites all the girls to the Royal Ball but Cinderella is not allowed to go. 

She sobs a lot and then a fairy appears and with her spells, turns a pumpkin into a carriage and the animals into coachmen and footmen. She tells her to return before midnight as the spell will break after that, (this gave the character a reason to run from the ball abruptly, which was not present in previous stories). And she runs away when the prince falls in love with her and she leaves her glass slippers behind. Using the slippers, the prince finds Cinderella and marries her. 

In this story, she also lets her mean and abusive step-sisters have a happy life by letting them marry handsome men of the Royal court, showing the pure and kind heart she has. This was the inspiration of the sweet and happy story of Disney Cinderella. But now take a look at the very gory and macabre version of the story by the Germans, Brother Grimm’s Cinderella.

The German Cinderella 

Perhaps the most macabre and harrowing version of this fairy tale that is also the most interesting one. The story of Aschenputtel starts with a death. Aschenputtel’s (Cinderella) mother, on her deathbed tells her to be kind and loving. After her death, she is abused and mistreated by her step-mother and step-sisters. There is a lot of abuse and crying in the story. Her step-sisters take her clothes and jewels away and force her to wear rags. The name “Aschenputtel” means “Ash Fool” and it was given by the sisters. She cries almost everyday on her mother’s grave, praying to make things better. 

One day, the father goes out and asks Aschen if she wants anything. She says that the first twig of tree that comes in his path is what she wants. He then brings a Hazel twig that Aschen plants on her mother’s grave. It grows into a tree and she prays under it three times a day. 

The king announces a festival where he’ll be choosing his wife and invites all the maidens. As expected, she is denied to go to the festival by her step-mother. 

The Brother Grimm Original Story of Cinderella
The Brothers Grimm. Image : Public Domain

She cries a lot under the tree and then the tree gives her beautiful dresses and she goes to the three-day long festival. The two times she manages to elude the prince and run away. But the third time, the prince covers the stairs with pitch. This causes Aschen’s golden slippers t. get stuck. The prince then searches for the person who’ll fit the slippers. This is where things get dark.

When the prince goes to Aschen’s house, the step-mother tells her daughters to do anything to fit in the shoes. The first daughter cuts off her toes to fit in the slippers, but a bird tells the prince about the blood on the slippers. The second daughter cuts off her heels but the bird agains tells about the blood. Finally the slippers fits Aschenputtel and the prince marries her.

If that wasn’t gory enough, in a modified version, the bird that told about the blood actually strikes the eyes of the two step-sisters and makes them blind forever! I can tell that this wouldn’t make a great bed-time story for kids.

So this was the original story of Cinderella and their variations. We cannot certainly say that the story of Rhodopis was true, but it surely served as an inspiration for many stories to come. We hope this article was helpful for the readers.

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