Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

The first fable concerning a wolf that disguises itself in a sheep’s skin is told by the 12th-century Greek rhetorician Nikephoros Basilakis in a work called Progymnasmata (rhetorical exercises). It is prefaced with the comment that ‘You can get into trouble by wearing a disguise’ and is followed by the illustrative story. ‘A wolf once decided to change his nature by changing his appearance, and thus get plenty to eat. He put on a sheepskin and accompanied the flock to the pasture. The shepherd was fooled by the disguise. When night fell, the shepherd shut up the wolf in the fold with the rest of the sheep and as the fence was placed across the entrance, the sheepfold was securely closed off. But when the shepherd wanted a sheep for his supper, he took his knife and killed the wolf.’ 

Woodcut by Francis Barlow, 1687; the end of “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”

The next version does not appear until three centuries later in the Hecatomythium of the 15th-century Italian professor Laurentius Abstemius. In his telling, ‘A wolf, dressed in a sheep’s skin, blended himself in with the flock of sheep and every day killed one of the sheep. When the shepherd noticed this was happening, he hanged the wolf on a very tall tree. On other shepherds asking him why he had hanged a sheep, the shepherd answered: The skin is that of a sheep, but the activities were those of a wolf.’ Abstemius’ comment on the story follows the Biblical interpretation: ‘people should be judged not by their outward demeanor but by their works, for many in sheep’s clothing do the work of wolves’.

My film, on the surface is the opposite, but may adopt similar themes, especially as to the second version of the fable.


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