Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Saint Anthony’s cell

Saint Anthony’s cell. Hermitage in which Anthony lives. It is set on a crescent-shaped platform high on a mountainside in the Thebaid desert, above the Nile. It is constructed from mud and reeds, with a flat roof and no door. Its only furniture, apart from mats on the floor, is a wooden frame supporting a book. A single palm tree grows on the edge of the platform, whose only other embellishment is a wooden cross. The Libyan mountains are visible on the desert horizon.

Anthony has previously dwelt in a pharaoh’s tomb and a ruined citadel and has traveled a great deal. Here, his final refuge, is where he makes baskets, mats, and shepherds’ crooks, bartering his products to nomads in exchange for bread. This crude stage becomes the arena in which the Devil launches his most powerful temptations as the saint’s spirits fall into weary despair. Although Anthony never leaves this place, he is transported in his imagination to several different locations.


*Thebaid. Domain of Thebes in Upper Egypt. The site of Thebes is now occupied by Luxor, but the desert remains as desolate as it was in Anthony’s day.


*Alexandria. Egypt’s great seaport built by Alexander the Great after his capture of Egypt in 332 b.c.e. Anthony is transported to the Panium, an artificial mound in the city center overlooking Lake Mareotis. When the monks of...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Brombert, Victor. The Novels of Flaubert: A Study of Themes and Techniques. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966. Chapter 5 offers an account of The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

Donato, Eugenio. The Script of Decadence: Essays on the Fictions of Flaubert and the Poetics of Romanticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Chapter 4, “Gnostic Fictions,” includes an elaborate discussion of the temptations offered by the heretics.

Ginsburg, Michal Peled. Flaubert Writing. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1986. Chapter 2 includes a detailed critique of The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

Griffin, Robert. Rape of the Lock: Flaubert’s Mythic Realism. Lexington, Ky.: French Forum, 1988. A discussion of The Temptation of Saint Anthony is contained in pages 259 to 288.

Osborn, E. B. Introduction to The First Temptation of Saint Anthony, by Gustave Flaubert, translated by René Francis. London: Bodley Head, 1924. A stylish essay setting out in scrupulous detail the reasons why Osborn considers the earlier texts to be much superior to the 1874 version. The book reprints the revised 1856 text in full, including passages that were dropped from the 1848-1849 text.