The Temptation of Saint Anthony

by Gustave Flaubert

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 281

The Temptation of Saint Anthony is a book, in the form of a stage play script, by Gustave Flaubert, which imagines the temptation of Saint Anthony by the Devil during his self-exile in the Egyptian desert.

The most persistent and obvious theme of the narrative is the temptation itself. The story explores and meticulously examines the faith of St. Anthony. In the beginning, Anthony began to regret the life he felt he wasted in the desert mountains. He begins to feel a longing for worldly things: wealth, power, admiration, sex, love, and others.

When the Devil appears to tempt him in attaining these things, we begin to see the duality of temptation. There is the temptation that stems from within us (e.g., our ego or primal desires) and then there is temptation from the external world, which is represented by the Devil.

The other theme is the battle between spirituality and materialism. Anthony begins to imagine the power he can attain with the wealth Satan tempted him with. However, there is a sub-theme of spirituality versus the ego. More than material wealth, it seems Anthony is just as tempted, if not more tempted, with increasing his social status. In the middle of the story, we see Anthony congratulating himself for his accomplishments, and pitying himself for all of the things he has missed out on. These were not triggered by the Devil but by Anthony's own ego.

Monotheism is also a theme illustrated in the story. The Devil showed him pagan gods—such as Greek and Roman mythological deities—and Anthony had to remind the Devil, and himself, that there is only one God, and that idol-worshipping is a sin.

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