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Cinderella and The Little Glass Slipper is a folk tale embodying a myth-element of unjust oppression/triumphant reward. Thousands of variants are known throughout the world. The title character is a young woman living in unfortunate circumstances that are suddenly changed to remarkable fortune. The word “cinderella” has, by analogy, come to mean one whose attributes are unrecognised, or one who unexpectedly achieves recognition or success after a period of obscurity and neglect. The still-popular story of “Cinderella” continues to influence popular culture internationally, lending plot elements, allusions, and tropes to a wide variety of media.
The Cinderella theme may well have originated in classical antiquity. The Ancient Greek historian Strabo recorded in the 1st century BC the tale of the Greco-Egyptian girl Rhodopis, “rosy-cheeked”, who lived in the Greek colony of Naucratis in Ancient Egypt. It is often considered the oldest known version of the story:
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. While the king was administering justice in the open air, the eagle, when it arrived above his head, flung the sandal into his lap. The king, having been 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. When she was found in the city of Naucratis, she was brought up to Memphis and became the wife of the king.
Herodotus, some five centuries before Strabo, supplied further information about Rhodopis in his Histories, writing that Rhodopis came from Thrace, and was the slave of Iadmon of Samos, and a fellow-slave of Aesop. She was taken to Egypt in the time of Pharaoh Amasis, and freed there for a large sum by Charaxus of Mytilene, brother of Sappho, the lyric poet.
The story later reappears with Aelian (ca. 175–ca. 235), showing that the Cinderella theme remained popular throughout antiquity.