What is more pleasing to the eye and soothing to the soul than to watch sheep peacefully grazing in a sunny meadow? They have been with us since biblical times . Bach wrote a cantata on “sheep who may safely graze when the shepherd guards them well”.
We do like our sheep and when we have trouble falling asleep we like to count them. But we also have our doubts about their mental capacities. Sheep do tend to indulge in group-think and are easily led, “like sheep to the slaughter”. And “sheepish” comes to mind when someone has acted somewhat foolishly and is aware of it. Then there is the wolf in sheep’s clothing who will try to fool us into thinking that he is really a harmless fellow .
The black sheep of the family is the somewhat disreputable relative of whom we are ashamed.
Jessica Mitford who wrote “The American Way of Death” identified herself as the red sheep of her family because she was, for most of her life, a communist though she was born to an aristocratic family.
Why do we want to separate the sheep from the goats? What fate do we have in mind for the poor goats? Of course, they are useful creatures too. When we shear them they give us wool. And because wool keeps us warm and snug in winter we have warm feelings towards those woolly creatures.
Marie Antoinette liked to act like a shepherdess in her little farm and amused herself by playing with her sheep and dying them in different colors. A song was written during the revolution warning her of a storm to come:
Il pleut il pleut bergere
Rentre tes blanc moutons.
(It’s raining, raining shepherdess
Take all your white sheep in)
Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson raised sheep on their farms In Mt Vernon and Monticello. And the first mammal ever cloned successfully was Dolly the sheep.