[FOUNTAIN]Oh, dem golden slippersOn wall paintings that date back to ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome, one can often find the depiction of shoes that look very similar to those of modern days. The shoes actually were symbols of high social status: In ancient Egypt, only the nobility, priests, and knights were allowed to wear shoes. Peasants were relieved from walking around in bare feet only with the beginning of Greece and Rome.
Maybe this is why there are many western folk stories that connect shoes to the elevation of social status, the most widely known of which may be the Cinderella story. Cinderella, who was abused by her stepmother, became the wife of the prince because her foot fit a glass slipper. That is a dramatic illustration of the link between shoes and moving up the social ladder.
Some scholars argue that in the genesis of the tale, Cinderella's glass shoes were actually not made of glass but of fur.
Those who support the fur theory cite the fact that vair, a French word meaning white fur, is pronounced the same as verre, another French word meaning glass. Thus, they argue, although in the original story the shoes were described as fur, confusion caused the change in meaning over time.
Another famous word stemming from French shoe-related vocabulary is "sabotage." A sabot is a wooden shoe that French farmers wore in the past. Sabotage in the old days was a protest by peasants over exorbitant taxes by trampling on crops.
There are some cultural researchers who link shoe fashions with sexual orientation, saying that feet and shoes have been the objects of sexual perversion. They interpret the foot-binding customs of China, high-heeled shoes and platform shoes as illustrations of sexual customs that are socially meaningful.
The Stele of Hegeso (420 B.C.) is a sculpture that gives us the hint of the origin of shoes. In this relief stele, Hegeso is wearing shoes and is seated. Her servant faces her, offering her a jewelry box. The scene shows how shoes were closely related to the personal adornment of women in those days.
Recently a jewelry company made an 18-karat golden shoe using 169 grams of yellow gold. The company announced that whoever fits the shoe will own it. But it was actually almost impossible for an adult woman to fit into the small and narrow golden footwear.
But according to media reports, women from far-flung provinces flocked to the store to give it a try. I wonder what golden shoes actually mean to today's women.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan