For the last two weeks we have looked at quite ancient versions of Cinderella. This week I want to jump slightly forward in time to 1634. It was during this year that the first literary European version of our tale was published in Italy by Giambattista Basile in his Pentamerone: Lo Cunto de li Cunti, meaning The Tale of Tales. The stories were collected by Basile and published posthumously in two volumes by his sister Adriana in Naples, Italy under a pseudonym. His stories were later adapted by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm,
The name "Cenerentola" comes from the Italian word "cenere" (ash, cinder). Many servants would have been continually soiled with ash at the time of writing, partly due to working all day cleaning, but also as they often were forced to live in draughty basements or attics they would huddle close to the fire to keep themselves warm. In the more familiar versions, Ella sits in the cinders and becomes Cinder Ella, in this version Zezolla sits in the cenere and becomes Cenerentola. This version is also sometimes referred to a s the Cat Cinderella due to the fact that the stepmother and the stepsisters start to call Zezolla “Cat Cinderella,” as if she were nothing but an animal.
Zezolla is a strong protagonist, less innocent and more cunning than the versions many of grew up with. She commits the murder of her wicked stepmother at her governess' behest. Neither she nor the governess who becomes her new stepmother are ever punished for this. She is savvy enough to ask for a a gift from the Dove of the Fairies which gives her a wishing tree. She uses the wishing tree to get clothes for the prince's succession of balls. On two occasions as she leaves the ball and is being chased by the servant of the price she purposely distracts him by throwing down gold coins and some of her jewellery so that she may escape without capture. On the third night her shoe is lost accidentally which provides us with the traditional plot element of the lost object.
The story is rather long and florid in style, so I have condensed it below with some summaries on the longer parts, but you can read the story in full HERE if you so choose.
IN the sea of Malice Envy frequently gets out of her depth; and whilst she is expecting to see another drowned, she is either drowned herself, or is dashed against a rock, as happened to some envious girls, about whom I will tell you a story.
THERE once lived a widower who had a daughter so dear to him that he saw with no other eyes than hers; and he kept a governess for her, who taught her chain-work, and knitting, and to make point-lace, and showed her such affection as no words can tell. But after a time the father married again, and took a wicked jade for his wife, who soon conceived a violent dislike to her stepdaughter; and all day long she made sour looks, wry faces and fierce eyes at her, till the poor child was beside herself with terror, and was for ever bewailing to her governess the bad treatment she received from her stepmother.
Zezolla constantly tells her governess how she wished the governess was her mother instead. After a while the governess tells Zezolla to murder her stepmother by slamming the lid of a chest down on her neck, saying:“If thou wilt do as I bid, I will become thy mother.” The stepmother's death is seen as an unfortunate accident. As soon as the mourning for the stepmother's death has ended, Zezolla convinces her father to marry the governess. So he took Carmosina (that was the name of the governess) to wife, and gave a great feast at the wedding.
Now whilst the young folks were dancing, and Zezolla was standing at a window of her house, a dove came flying and perched upon a wall, and said to her, "Whenever you desire anything, send the request to the Dove of the Fairies in the island of Sardinia, and you will instantly have what you wish."
For five or six days the new stepmother overwhelmed Zezolla with caresses, seating her at the best place at table, giving her the choicest morsels to eat, and clothing her in the richest apparel. But ere long forgetting entirely the good service she had received, she began to bring forward six daughters of her own, whom she had until then kept concealed; and she praised them so much, and talked her husband over in such a manner, that at last the stepdaughters engrossed all his favour, and the thought of his own child went entirely from his heart: in short, it fared so ill with the poor girl, bad today and worse tomorrow, that she was at last brought down from the royal chamber to the kitchen, from the canopy of state to the hearth, from splendid apparel of silks and gold to dish-clouts, from the sceptre to the spit. And not only was her condition changed, but even her name; for instead of Zezolla, she was now called Cenerentola.
In this lowly state the stepmother and the stepsisters start to call Zezolla “Cat Cinderella,” as if she were nothing but an animal.
One day her father announces that he is going to Sardinia on business and asks his stepdaughters what they would like as presents, and as an afterthought he asks his own daughter what she
would like. The others all ask for expensive gifts, while Zezolla says:“I want nought, but that thou recommend me to the queen of the fairies, bidding her that she might send me something.”
Before heading home from Sardinia, the father does as Zezolla had asked, and receives from the fairy queen a date tree, a golden bucket, and a silken napkin. She takes great care of this tree,watering it with the golden bucket, and using the napkin to soak up the extra moisture. It’s not long till the tree is at its full height,and from its branches a fairy emerges, promising to fulfil all the child’s wishes.
" What do you wish for?" And Zezolla replied, that she wished sometimes to leave the house without her sisters' knowledge. The fairy answered, "Whenever you desire this, come to the flowerpot and say,
'My little Date-tree, my golden tree,
With a golden hoe I have hoed thee,
With a golden can I have water'd thee,
With a silken cloth I have wiped thee dry,
Now strip thee, and dress me speedily!'
And when you wish to undress, change the last verse, and say, ' Strip me, and dress thee."'
One day Zezolla learns that the prince is going to throw a ball, and she wants very much to attend. So when the day arrives she waits for her stepmother and stepsisters to leave, then goes to the tree
and makes her wish known. The tree throws down a golden gown and a necklace made of pearls and precious stones, and gives her a steed so she would have a way to get there. When she gets there she meets her sisters, but they fail to know who she is, and as soon as the prince sees her enter the ballroom he is smitten by her beauty and regal bearing, and proposes to her. But she flees, afraid that he’ll reject her when he learns of her lowly circumstances.
As soon as the prince saw the marvellous beauty of Zezolla, he ordered a trusty servant to find out who that beautiful creature was, and where she lived. So the servant followed in her footsteps; but Zezolla, observing the trick, threw on the ground a handful of crown-pieces, which she had made the date-tree give her for this purpose. Then the servant lighted the lantern, and in his eagerness to fill his pockets with the crown-pieces he forgot to follow the maiden. In the meantime Zezolla hastened home, and undressed herself as the fairy had told her. Soon afterwards the wicked sisters returned, and, in order to vex her and excite her envy, they told her of all kinds of beautiful things that they had seen.
Meanwhile the servant came back to the prince to say he had lost sight of the beautiful girl because he was picking up the crowns and so the the prince commanded him to find out at the next feast who the beautiful maiden was, and where this pretty bird had its nest.
When the next feast was come, the sisters all went to it decked out smartly, leaving poor Zezolla at home on the hearth. Then Zezolla ran quickly to the date-tree, and repeated the words as before; and instantly there appeared a number of damsels, one with a looking-glass, another with a bottle of pumpkin-water, another with the curling-irons, another with a comb, another with pins, another with dresses, and another with capes and collars. And decking her out till she looked as beautiful as a sun, they placed her in a coach drawn by six horses, attended by footmen and pages in livery. And no sooner did she appear in the room where the former feast was held, than the hearts of the sisters were filled with amazement, and the breast of the prince with fire.
When Zezolla went away again, the servant followed in her footsteps as before; but, in order not to be caught, she threw down a handful of pearls and jewels; and the good fellow, seeing that they were not things to lose, stayed to pick them up. So Zezolla had time to slip home and take off her fine dress as before.
Meanwhile the servant returned slowly to the prince, who exclaimed when he saw him, " By the souls of my ancestors, if you don't find out who she is, I'll give you a sound thrashing, and, what's more, I'll give you as many kicks as you have hairs in that beard of thine!"
When the next feast was held, and the sisters had gone to it, Zezolla went to the date-tree, and repeating the words of the charm, in an instant she was splendidly arrayed, and seated in a coach of gold, with ever so many servants around, so that she looked just like a queen. The envy of the sisters was excited as before; and when she left the room, the prince's servant kept close to the coach. But Zezolla, seeing that the man kept running at her side, cried, "Coachman, drive on!" and in a trice the coach set off at such a rattling pace, that Zezolla lost one of her slippers, the prettiest thing that ever was seen. The servant, being unable to overtake the coach, which flew like a bird, picked up the slipper, and carrying it to the prince told him all that had happened. Whereupon the prince taking it in his hand) said, " If the basement indeed is so beautiful, what must the building be? O beauteous candlestick, where is the candle that consumes me? O tripod of the bright boiler in which life simmers! O beautiful cork, fastened to the angling-line of Love, with which he has caught my soul! Lo, I embrace you, I press you to my heart; and if I cannot reach the plant, I adore at least the roots; if I cannot possess the capital of the column, I kiss the base. You who until now were the prison of a white foot, are now the fetter of an unhappy heart."
The prince orders there to be a great banquet and that all women in the kingdom are to attend, sothat he can find the maiden whose foot fits the slipper.
Oh, what a banquet it was, and what joyance and amusements were there, and what food: pastry and pies, and roast, and balls of mincemeat, and macaroni, and ravioli, enough to feed an army.
Since none of the feet fit the slipper the prince wonders if someone may have been missed. Zezolla’s father confesses that his daughter insisted upon not coming because she felt unworthy of
notice. The prince orders the feast to last another day, and decrees that every woman is to attend.
notice. The prince orders the feast to last another day, and decrees that every woman is to attend.
And when the feasting was ended, came the trial of the slipper; but as soon as ever it approached Zezolla's foot, it darted of itself to the foot of that painted egg of Venus, as the iron flies to the magnet; at the sight of which the prince ran to her and made a press for her with his arms, and seating her under the royal canopy he set the crown upon her head; whereupon all made their obeisance and homage to her as their queen.
When the sisters beheld this, they were full of spite and rage; and not having patience to look upon this object of their hatred, they slipped quietly away on tip toe, and went home to their mother, confessing in spite of themselves that "He is a madman who resists the stars."
That's all for this week. Next week we look at the version that most of know the best.