“I have been given to you by God, as a sort of gadfly attached to the state,” Socrates said to the jurors in his defense on that day of his trial. “And I am not going to argue for my sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against God by condemning me. I am his gift to you. And if you kill me, you will not easily find a successor.” All his life, he informed them, he had been private audience to a personal supernatural voice whose enjoining instructions it would be sinful for him to ignore. “Men of Athens, I honor and love you, but I shall obey God rather than you.”
It was too late to talk him out of this conviction that would have led to his being burned as a heretic in those enlightened Dark Ages to come, in which Plato was embraced and absorbed and Aristotle was rediscovered and acclaimed “the Philosopher” by such as Aquinas.
And it was too soon to tell him of the lunatic schoolteacher in Amsterdam with the serrated bread knife, who believed he had been commanded by God to go to the painting of The Nightwatch in the Rijksmuseum directly from the restaurant in which he had eaten his lunch.
To this day, there are superstitious covens in abandoned small churches in Amsterdam convinced the vandal was the reincarnation of one of the discontented musketeers who paid one hundred guilders to be memorialized with dignity and found himself reduced to a detail in oil paint in a garish illustration that could have served as a poster for a comic operetta.
There are others who say it was Rembrandt.
—Joseph Heller, Picture This