"Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper" (French: Cendrillon, ou La petite Pantoufle de Verre; Spanish: Cenicienta, literally greyish) is a classic 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 Greek historian Strabo (Geographica Book 17, 1.33) 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; 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...
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.
The magical significance of the pumpkin in the Cinderella story, which has led to the modern expression by someone who desires an early bedtime, 'after midnight, I turn into a pumpkin', might derive from the 1st century comic work of Seneca 'On the Pumpkinification of Claudius', playing on a pun for the word for deification and the word for pumpkin.
Another version of the story, Ye Xian, appeared in Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang by Tuan Ch'eng-Shih around 860. Here the hardworking and lovely girl befriends a fish, the reincarnation of her mother, who was killed by her stepmother. Ye Xian saves the bones, which are magic, and they help her dress appropriately for a festival. When she loses her slipper after a fast exit, the king finds her and falls in love with her. Another version of the story which is almost similar to the Chinese version exists in the Philippines, the story is known as "Mariang Alimango" (Mary the Crab). In this version, the spirit of her dead mother reincarnates as a crab, hence the title, and serves as her "fairy godmother".
Several different variants of the story appear in the medieval One Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights, including "The Second Shaykh's Story", "The Eldest Lady's Tale" and "Abdallah ibn Fadil and His Brothers", all dealing with the theme of a younger sibling harassed by two jealous elders. In some of these, the siblings are female, while in others they are male. One of the tales, "Judar and His Brethren", departs from the happy endings of previous variants and reworks the plot to give it a tragic ending instead, with the younger brother being poisoned by his elder brothers.