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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 285

Anthony, having lived a hermit’s isolated existence for several decades, is having doubts about whether his retreat from the world is truly serving his spiritual dedication to God. He had previously found value in sharing advice with, and receiving food from, pilgrims who reached his mountaintop hut, but they no longer seek him out. Affected by hunger and the desert heat as well as the stirrings of doubt, he contemplates leaving his hideout and reads scripture to help him decide. In the dead of night, Anthony begins to hear voices and see visions—visits from the Devil, who brings with him the seven deadly sins.

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Singly or in groups, monsters arrive to torment him and beautiful objects, money, and sumptuous meals appear to tempt him. Flaubert drew many of these creatures not just from the Bible but from other cultural traditions and writings, forming a panoply of bizarre apparitions. Anthony also dreams of power, imagining himself a great emperor, and in turn in degraded animal form. Sexual temptation arrives personified as the Queen of Sheba. Yet another temptation, a former pupil, offers him more knowledge, even of the great secrets of life.

A complicated conversation with a wide array of heretics then commences, offering equally diverse religious unorthodoxies that have arisen at various times. At his worst, Anthony imagines himself as Christ. He must reject all of them—even the glorious Greek gods of Olympus. Finally, the Devil manifests himself once more and bears Anthony out into the farthest reaches of space, tempting him with control of the entire universe. This too he manages to resist, and awakens purified and with faith reaffirmed. In the glorious morning sun, he beholds the face of Christ.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1584

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...

(The entire section contains 1869 words.)

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