Cinderella’s slippers: glass, squirrel or amber?

Mark Liberman wonders whether Cinderella slipped two dead squirrels round her tootsy-toes that night, while Chris Waigl does not. I think glass is a reasonable interpretation, although it may not have been the material used.
DH Green (Language and History in the Early Germanic World) notes that both Pliny and Tacitus used glaesum/glesum to refer to amber, despite being aware of the difference in manufacture between it and glass. This conscious confusion was based on the transparency of both materials, and in the competition between products manufactured thereof–native beads and Roman glass objects.
The relevance of this is to be found a while later in L0pe de Vega’s La Dorotea. Published in 1632, 65 years before Perrault, it recreates the author’s passionate and disastrous fling with actress Elena Osorio in the early 1580s and has the heroine worrying of having to trade in her amber slippers for crudely bound sandals (“Si don Bela quiere, tú verás estos pies que celebrabas trocar las zapatillas de ámbar en groseras sandalias de cordeles”).

Similarly, Quevedo in El mundo por de dentro (1612) has amber slippers being used to disguise sweaty feet (“a veces los pies disimulan el sudor con las zapatillas de ámbar”). Amber slippers were still available in Regency England, and are evoked in contemporary advertising for Miss Natasha Perfume (“this princess of perfumes makes her way on Amber slippers and Lily négligés. A warm and slow burning temptress that stands on her own”).

I, too, have made my way on lily négligés and hope one day to acquire a pair of amber slippers, which must surely have been what Cinderella aspired to wear. Too bad her fairy godmother skimped and gave her the cheaper, glass alternative.


Mark makes the reasonable suggestions that the Regency slippers may have been merely amber in colour, and that real amber slippers wouldn’t be able to stand up to dancing.

The “sweaty feet” bit of Quevedo suggests to me that amber was used in the construction of his slippers–Susan Ward Aber writes here that “In ancient times the aroma [of amber] was appreciated in order to camouflage the odor of spoiled food”–and elsewhere in La Dorotea there’s a reference to the quantity of amber to be used in slippers (not much, since that tender foot “could be shod with a lily flower”).

Amber slippers may, on the other hand, have been a metaphorical attribute of potentates and the fairified: Baltasar Gracián (El político don Fernando el Católico, 1640) writes that “The sandals of the Aragonese Don Sancho were more glorious than the amber shoes of other princes, because the latter stayed planted in revolting cesspits [to which, as we have noted, they were eminently suited] while his were witness to majestic deeds” (“Más gloriosas fueron las abarcas del aragonés don Sancho que el zapato de ámbar de otros príncipes, pues éstos paran en asquerosos muladares y aquéllas en majestuosos timbres”). Sancho was, apart from a protagonist in The War of the Three Sanchos, a leading Moor-killer, so the amber shoes may be an early twitch of Orientalism.
It would be good to hear from an amber worker re the practicalities of this kind of footwear, bearing in mind that Cinderella was undernourished and according to most accounts an unpretentious dancer.

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