(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Anthony has lived the life of a hermit for more than thirty years and now has come almost to the point of despair. He is extremely weary of life and of the world as he sees it from the limited point of view of his cell high in the mountains. At one time people had made pilgrimages to see him and be advised by him; these same people had furnished him with whatever money and clothing he needed. Everyone stopped coming years ago, however, and Anthony has begun to fear that his life is worthless. He then begins to long for the money, women, and goods of this world through which he might regain some sort of recognition and pleasure.

One night Anthony’s solitude becomes too much. He remembers his early life as a monk, with its adventures and successes, and he thinks of the things he might have done if he had not become a hermit. At last he decides that it is merely his own stubbornness that keeps him alone in the mountains. Rather than allow himself to be guilty of such a sin, he prepares to depart, but he gets no farther than the cleared area in front of his cell. Realizing that he has almost yielded to temptation, he throws himself onto the ground. Then, in order to regain his strength and courage, he reads from the Acts of the Apostles and tries to think. His mind, however, keeps coming back to worldly matters that still tempt him.

Anthony then begins to review in his mind the things that are a credit to him in this world, the good works of his life. He praises himself for hardships he has suffered and for the things he has denied himself. Again, he begins to feel sorry for himself; the desire for the money, goods, and women he was earlier denied becomes unbearable. He falls into a trance, and while he lies on the ground the Devil appears, his wings spread like those of a giant bat to reveal beneath them the seven deadly sins. Anthony awakes hungry and thirsty. Taking up a scrap of bread, which is all that he can find to eat in his cell, he throws it on the ground in anger. Then there appears before him a table laden with all manner of meat and fruit from which he might satisfy himself. As he watches, the table grows, and delicacies he has never seen before appear on it. Anthony almost indulges himself, but he realizes in time that this also is the work of the Devil. When he kicks the table, it disappears.

Soon afterward Anthony finds on the ground a silver cup that has a gold coin at the bottom of it. When he picks up the coin, another coin appears, and then another, until the cup fills and begins to overflow. As Anthony watches, he begins to dream of the power that could be his because of so much wealth. He soon sees himself as second in power only to the emperor, and he begins to think of the revenge he could take on all his enemies. He even imagines himself as the emperor, taking precedence in Church affairs over the fathers of the Council of Nicaea. During this time, however, his bodily form has become more and more degraded, until at last he sees himself as a beast. At this point, he awakes.

Anthony flogs himself furiously for indulging in such sinful dreams, but as he is doing so he becomes aware of the arrival of a caravan. Soon the Queen of Sheba presents herself before him with many promises of love and luxury, the only condition being that Anthony must give up his solitary life and live with her. Although she uses all of her feminine charms to lure him away, Anthony firmly resists the temptation she offers.

After she has disappeared, Anthony notices that a child, whom he supposed has been left behind by the caravan, is standing in the doorway of his cell. The child is Hilarion, a former disciple. As Anthony watches, the child grows to the height of a man and begins accusing the saint of leading a sinful life. He charges that Anthony’s abnegation is merely a subtle form of corruption, that his solitude simply...

(The entire section is 1584 words.)