"Woman gives birth to a gourd." - This is the opening to the description of an Italian variant of the Cinderella folk tale — or, really, a relative of one of its relatives — taken from a book called Cinderella; three hundred and forty-five variants of Cinderella, Catskin, and Cap o'Rushes, abstracted and tabulated, with a discussion of mediaeval analogues, and notes, written by Marian Roalfe Cox and published in 1893. In this version of the story, the heroine is born inside a gourd and accidentally abandoned in the forest by it's mother.
Our heroine is discovered by a prince, who finds the talking gourd and takes it home. Later she gets out and becomes a servant named Zucchettina.
. The prince keeps her at the palace but mistreats her terribly, even beating her and kicking her to prevent her from attending his ball, but she gets there anyway without his knowing it's her . They meet and he gives her gifts and so on. Later, when she prepares his breakfast, she slips into his breakfast one of the gifts he gave her at the ball. When he finds the gift, he recognizes that she is his beloved.
(It could be worse to our modern ears: One of the Cinderella variant entries is called "Little Saddleslut.")
Enlarge this imageIn 1812, the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, published Children and Household Tales, a collection German fairy tales. This illustration accompanied the tale "Cinderella" and shows Cinderella being left by her stepsisters to do the housework. This image is from Grimms Eventyr (Grimm's Fairy Tales) by Carl Ewald, published in 1922.Ivy Close Images/Landov
This version is an obvious relative of Cinderella but not quite Cinderella; it's presented as one of the variants of Catskin, a related tale that also has a hard-working girl who meets a prince at a ball while in disguise and is then recognized and rescued.
That's not the strangest variant in the book, and it is certainly not the darkest. One begins with Cinderella, her two older sisters and their mother agreeing to a whimsical bet: First one to drop her spinning spool will be eaten by the others. When Mom proves clumsy, the sisters indeed eat her. (A deal's a deal?) Cinderella decides not to eat her mother, but to wait until the killing and eating is over, then bury her mother's bones. You know, out of respect. Fortunately, her mother's bones turn into coins and beautiful magic dresses. It's no fairy godmother, but you don't look your mother's gift bones in the ... mouth, I suppose.
There's a Vietnamese variant called Kajong And Haloek in which the evil foster mother of the Cinderella figure, Kajong, is tricked into eating the flesh of her own dead daughter (who boiled herself alive trying to be as beautiful as Kajong) — punishment for them both.
And here is a direct quote from Cox's book, summarizing a variant called Gold-dice: "King goes to war, leaving three daughters in mound with victuals for seven years. Father slain; princesses forgotten. Dog and cat eaten; elder sisters die. Heroine eats mouse; digs way out."