Cinderella of the Nile
Beverley Naidoo and Marjan Vafaeian
Cinderella is one of the most often told and recognised stories all around the world with its themes and motifs appearing in the folklore of many cultures.
Rhodopsis is an ancient Greek/Egyptian tale said to be the earliest Cinderella story.
Now, Carnegie award-winning author Beverley Naidoo retells this little known tale, the first in the publisher’s ‘One Story, Many Voices’ series. I was particularly excited to see this book having become interested in how stories cross cultures and wrote an assignment on this theme in relation to the Cinderella story while studying at London University’s Institute of Education many years ago.
In this version, unlike the Cinderella most young children are familiar with, a young Greek girl, Rhodopisis is captured by pirates and sold into slavery.
Her master has a special slave, the storyteller, Aesop who becomes friendly with the beautiful red-haired girl and the only one able to make her smile.
After a while her master, unhappy at her unwillingness to smile for him, sells her to a merchant travelling to the Egyptian port of Naukratis.
There she is bought by a Greek merchant who, having heard her story, treats her kindly, rather like a daughter, angering his Egyptian servants, in particular, three sisters who do unkind things to the girl behind their master’s back.
One day her master sees her dancing barefoot down by the river and so he gives her a pair of beautiful rose-red slippers.
Not long after, the Pharaoh sends out an invitation to his subjects asking them to a feast at his palace. Hearing that he was looking for a bride, the three sisters lie to their master and set off to attend.
The kind-hearted Rhodopsis is left to do all the chores and while she does so, Horus, the falcon-god seizes one of her slippers and flies off with it, dropping it into the hand of the Pharaoh Amasis.
Taking it as a sign from the god, the Pharaoh orders messengers to seek out the slipper’s owner: it is she who will become his Queen …
The ancient origins of the story is evident through Marjan Vafaeian’s use of the side on figurative imagery found in the Greek art of the period as well as in Ancient Egyptian wall paintings. Her stylised patterned landscapes in opulent shades of red, brown and green are stunning and a perfect complement to Beverley Naidoo’s fine telling.