Primary Sources: Herodotus, EUTERPE 16 (Mostly About Rhodopis)
Herodotus Tells Tales From Egypt’s Hoary Past! Today’s installment: Cinderella?
Mycerinus was the son of the brother of Cheops, and succeeded them. His tomb was probably discovered at the end of the 19th century, but his effects were lost en route from Egypt to the British Museum, so we’re limited in our ability to fact-check Herodotus on this one.
H. says that Mycerinus was an excellent king: he reopened the temples that Cheops closed (again, no historical record of this), he judged disputes fairly, and he stopped making people build Pyramids all day every day.
H. also links Mycerinus to a particular religious festival involving an idol of a cow; supposedly the idol is actually Mycerinus’s daughter’s sacrophagus. The king wanted to give his beloved daughter the best possible send-off, when she died, and apparently that meant sealing her up inside a wooden statue of a cow.
Mycerinus’s other claim to fame lay in his death. Relatively briefly into his reign, an oracle visited him and told him that he would take ill and die after six years. Mycerinus was pretty upset to hear this; he’d been a good king, reversing Cheops’s many terrible policies, so why should the gods punish him so?
The oracle explained that Egypt was supposed to suffer for 150 years of bad rulers, and Mycerinus had bucked the trend by not ruling as a wicked despot for 44 years.
“Screw that,” said Mycerinus. He devoted the rest of his life to partying as hard as he could — wine, women, song! Late nights! Drugs! Lanterns! His goal was to pack as much living as possible into the six years he was allotted by the gods.
When he died they put him up in a pyramid, a relatively modest one. Herodotus asserts that some wags claim this particular pyramid was actually built for Rhodopis, but calls bull hockey on that.
Our man H. realizes that we might not know who Rhodopis was, so he explains. She was the Fanne Foxe of her day, a notorious courtesan. Born a slave in Greece (belonging, in fact, to the same household as Aesop, the fable guy) she travelled to Egypt and convinced a patron to buy her freedom, at which point she became the greatest courtesan in history. She was so good at sex! She made a fortune!
She made so much money! You can tell how much she made, says Herodotus, because late in life she donated ten percent of her wealth to the oracle at Delphi. Her donation, a huge pile of iron spits and implements for roasting whole oxen, still remains at Delphi as of Herodotus’s last trip there.
She was also super famous, says Herodotus. Way more famous than Archidice, about whom we know nothing! Seriously I dunno about this Archidice lady except that she was a courtesan whose sexiness couldn’t compare to the notorious Rhodopis.
And the guy whom she pressured to bring her to Egypt and buy her freedom was named Charaxus. Sappho, the poet, wrote a whole poem about how dumb Charaxus was, a fragment of which survives today.
Rhodopis was a real person, historians agree, and maybe once upon a time she was involved in an event wherein one of her lovers obtained one of her shoes, and tried to identify her by getting women to try the shoe on for size, which is the seed of part of the story of Cinderella.
Or maybe it was always just a story, one about an eagle stealing her sandal while she was bathing and dropping it in the lap of the king, and the king deciding that was a great way to select a wife, and there was never any historical reality to it.
I appear to be seeing… a mobile version of the site!
Yeah, I’m working on some stuff.