you shall go to the ball


Isn’t it amazing that there are Cinderella stories from all over the world? There is even a version from pre-Columban America.

(I recommend ‘Mufaro’s Beautiful Daugher’ from Africa, the very old ‘Yeh-Shen’ from China, and ‘The Talking Eggs’ from the American South.)

Update: see entry on Sapsorrow.

But the oldest scrap of the story we have is from Greece, and concerns a girl who was a slave with Aesop on Samos!

Rhodopis, ‘Rosy-Cheeks’, was taken as a slave from her native Thrace to Samos. There she worked for a man named Iadmon, as a fellow slave to Aesop the fabulist.

What stories did she hear?

Very beautiful, she was sold on to a trader named Xanthes who takes her to Naukratis in Egypt, the town that has been given over to the Greeks by Pharaoh Amazis.

What kind of journey was that?

She is bought by Charaxus, brother of the poet Sappho, who has come to Egypt with a shipload of wine from Lesbos (Sappho is thought to have writen a poem on the subject, calling the girl by her perhaps real name of Doricha).

What would that poem have been like?

And, from Wikipedia (not all of this is true to the sources):

She works in the household of her Egyptian master. Though kind, her master spends most of his time sleeping, and is therefore unaware of her harsh treatment at the hands of his other servant girls. Because Rhodopis is both fair-complexioned and a foreign slave, the other servants tease her and order her around.

After her master sees Rhodopis dancing skillfully by herself, he gives her a pair of rose-gilded slippers. The other servants resent this treatment and use Rhodopis more harshly than before.
One day, Pharaoh Ahmose I invites the people of Egypt to a celebration in Memphis. The other servants prevent Rhodopis from attending with them by giving her a long list of chores to complete.

While she is down by the river washing clothes, her slippers become wet and she places them in the sun to dry. Suddenly, the falcon Horus swoops down, snatches one of the slippers, and flies away with it. Rhodopis stores the other slipper in her clothing.

During the celebration in Memphis, the falcon drops the slipper in the Pharaoh’s lap. Realizing that it is a sign from Horus, he decrees that all the maidens of the kingdom must try on the slipper, and that he will marry the one whose foot it fits.

The Pharaoh’s search for the owner of the slipper eventually leads him to Rhodopis’ home. Though Rhodopis hides when she sees the Pharaoh’s barge, he sees her and asks her to try the slipper. After demonstrating that it fits her, she pulls out its mate, and the Pharaoh declares that he will marry her.



  1. AKK said

    I think there is a mistake in the Wiki article. Rhodopis means ‘rosy eyes’. It’s the root ‘op-‘ for eyes / vision -like ‘optician’. There is a girl who works in a shop here in Ikaria, by this name. I asked her if she knew what her name meant. She didn’t so I told her it meant ‘with eyes like roses’. She gave me a side look (“Are you flirting me?”). I didn’t go on, as I intended, to tell her the story of the ancient Rhodopi(s). What would she have taken me for? Let her look it up in an encyclopedia.

  2. Simon G said

    haha –

    I can just imagine the encounter… You say something perfectly innocent like “Did you know that your name means Rosy Eyes?” and people get the wrong impression!
    Is it a shop you have to go into regularly? Will you get a sideway looks every time you go there now?

    On the other hand, she ought to know…

    Thanks for the correction – it is not just wiki, but all the secondary (no, tertiary, quaternary, and whatever 5-ary is) sources have it as rosy cheeks.

    (btw, wasn’t there a picture of someone on Flickr – was it on your stream or someone else’s? – with a name that means rosy cheeks?)

  3. isl_gr said

    Ha ha 🙂 The Egyptians not only invented cartoons (= picture stories with balloons) but tear-jerkers as well!

    p.s. I hate Cinderellas…


    It’s ‘rosy-eyes’, all right. The misunderstanding comes from the difficulty of understanding the similitude. How can one have eyes like roses? (if not drunk -haha!) Cheeks makes better sense. But ‘rosy’ refers to brightness and softness, like roses are; not the redness. And by the way, how do we know that the roses were red back then?

    Never mind I hate Cinderellas. I love what I hate. Great entry Simon!

  4. isl_gr said

    Angelos, I know your Rhodopi. Put your hand on your heart and tell me. Are you sure you weren’t flirting her?

  5. Anonymous said

    I found out that the ancient Greeks themselves had different stories to say about Rhodopis.

    “Rhodopis the Courtesan
    What the ancient writers had to say”
    (Quotes from Herodotus)

    [2.134.1] This king, too, left a pyramid, but far smaller than his father’s, each side twenty feet short of three hundred feet long, square at the base, and as much as half its height of Ethiopian stone. Some Greeks say that it was built by Rhodopis, the courtesan, but they are wrong;

    [2.134.2] indeed, it is clear to me that they say this without even knowing who Rhodopis was (otherwise, they would never have credited her with the building of a pyramid on which what I may call an uncountable sum of money was spent), or that Rhodopis flourished in the reign of Amasis, not of Mycerinus;

    [2.134.3] for 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:

    [2.134.4] 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.

    [2.135.1] 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.

    [2.135.2] 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.

    [2.135.3] 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;

    [2.135.4] 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.

    [2.135.5] 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.

    [2.135.6] Kharaxus, after giving Rhodopis her freedom, returned to Mytilene. He is bitterly attacked by Sappho in one of her poems. This is enough about Rhodopis.

  6. AKK said

    How romantic can we be!
    After this, I honestly think that Rhodopis’ name could mean “face (or eyes) heavily made up”. Our Greco-Egyptian ‘tear-jerker’ star Cinderella started as a sex-slave, then became a free prostitute, promoted to courtisan and maybe afterwards a weak Pharao’s odalisque or spouse!
    This is amazing.

    p.s. The actual Ikarian Rhodopi sells my books and maps in that shop. In a way she works for my benefit. To flatter her a little about her beautiful and very rare name should be seen as part of my Public Relations -:lol

  7. Simon G said

    …perhaps you’d better not tell her the whole story (you might have to find another shop for The Map)!

    Yes, it is amazing…

    The other ‘source’ is Strabo, writing 500 years later:

    “…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 his 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.”

    from here

    Yes, there is something so saccharin about the Perault (not to mention Disney) version of the story that dominates now. To know some of the tellings from other times and places makes the story a lot more fascinating to me. Not least this one about rosy-eyes.

  8. Simon G said

    thanks elle – yes red eyes didn’t sound so attractive! thinking too literally…

    What is it about Cinderellas??

  9. vixen said

    Conversation between two prostitutes in the film “Pretty Woman” :

    -Do you know anyone else who has made it?
    -YES! Cindy-fucking-rella!!!

  10. isl_gr said

    Every little girl in order to have a chance to become a woman has to fight the Cinderella. Good to know that the story has been a contraption since …when was that? the 6th cent. BC.
    I hate Cinderella but in the same time I love it because it’s there and we have to fight it to grow up.

    I wear shoes size 43, so I would be a hopeless Cindy, anyway. If my slipper fell from the sky it would probably kill somebody! If this happened to be the Pharaoh, they would organize a hunt to find and execute me!

  11. Simon G said

    a pythonesque picture of a size 43 boot doubling Pharaoh up in pain! 🙂

    I wrote something about the cindy complex, life and art and Thespis, but it’s gone…

    • Mackenzie said

      Wouldn’t you like to make a story

  12. […] it also has things in common with the ancient Egyptian / Greek of ‘Cinderella’, Rose-Eyes: it tells of a token that mysteriously and improbably finds its way to Pharaoh and […]

  13. Mackenzie said

    I like the story but it was mean to tell her what to do

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