The philosopher, Democritus of Abdera (c. 460 B.C.-c. 357 B.C.), for whom see the note to lot 26, is said to have decided to live in solitude, and, moreover, never seemed to stop laughing; his enemies used this to accuse him of insanity; Hippocrates (c. 460 B.C.-c. 370 B.C.), the famous Greek medical philosopher, was sent to discover the nature of his disorder, but on visiting him, realised that it was not Democritus who was insane, but his enemies.
This picture had been thought to represent King Antiochus seeking a divination; its correct title did not reappear until the 1860 Pirard sale, where it was argued that Berchem was drawing upon a fable of Lafontaine. Stechow, loc. cit., supported the reversion to the original subject, but argued that the source for the tale was the text of the apocryphal Letters of Hippocrates (published in Latin in Paris, 1544, republished several times, including in Antwerp, 1573). Stechow noted that the story was known to have been used on only one other occasion in art: in 1636, by Claes Cornelisz. Moeyaert, under whom Berchem studied, in a work with clear compositional similarities to the present picture (Mauritshuis, inv. no. 115).
He also referred to the possibility that it may have been represented by Lastman in a lost work recorded by Kurt Freise, Pieter Lastman. Sein Leben und seine Kunst, Lepzig, 1911, p. 72, no. 97). Lastman's picture, signed and dated 1622, has since resurfaced and was exhibited in 1991 (Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam, Pieter Lastman, leermeester van Rembrandt, no. 13). Lastman's composition was clearly the basis for Moeyaert's, and through him, Berchem's works. The catalogue to the exhibition notes that Lastman's composition does correspond to the Letters, but adds that he may have been more directly inspired by the play De Reden-Vreucht der Wijsen, published in Alkmaar in 1603, which draws heavily on the 1573 Antwerp edition.