The Temptation of Saint Anthony (Flaubert)  

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Je veux boire des poisons, me perdre
dans les vapeurs, dans les rêves!

"I want to drink poisons, to lose myself
in mists, in dreams!"

Diana, in The Temptation of Saint Anthony
by Gustave Flaubert.

Gustave Flaubert ably continued the tradition of Gautier in orgies of poetic phantasy like The Temptation of St. Anthony, and but for a strong realistic bias might have been an arch-weaver of tapestried terrors. --H. P. Lovecraft in Supernatural Horror in Literature

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (French La Tentation de Saint Antoine) is a book which Gustave Flaubert first published in 1874. It is written in the form of a play script. It details one night in the life of Saint Anthony where Anthony is faced with great temptations. There is a public domain translation by Lafcadio Hearn. Michel Foucault also wrote about the book, and before that, it was the subject of Reik's dissertation Flaubert und seine Versuchung des heiligen Antonius.



Gustave Flaubert spent practically his whole life fitfully working on, in three versions he completed in 1849 (revised after negative criticism by Maxime Du Camp and Louis Bouilhet), 1856 (extracts published at the same time) and 1872 before publishing the final version in 1874. It is written in the form of a play script. It details one night in the life of Anthony the Great where Anthony is faced with great temptations, and it was inspired by the painting, which he saw at the Balbi Palace in Genoa.


Au milieu du portique, en plein soleil, une femme nue etait attachee contre une colonne, deux soldats la fouettant avec des lanieres; a chacun des coups son corps entier se tordait. Elle s'est retournee, la bouche ouverte;--et pardessus la foule, a travers ses longs cheveux qui lui couvraient la figure, j'ai cru reconnaitre Ammonaria ...
Cependant ... celle-la etait plus grande ..., et belle ..., prodigieusement!
Il se passe les mains sur le front.
Non! non! je ne veux pas y penser! [1]
In the centre of the portico, under the sunlight, a naked woman was fettered to a column, and two soldiers were flogging her with thongs; at every blow her whole body writhed. She turned round, her mouth open; and over the heads of the crowd, through the long hair half hiding her face, I thought that I could recognize Ammonaria. . . .
Nevertheless . . . this one was taller . . . and beautiful . . . prodigiously beautiful!
He passes his hands over his forehead.
No! no! I must not think of it!


This is a fantastical rendering of one night during which the monk is besieged by carnal temptations and philosophical doubt.


Lafcadio Hearn, it contains an introduction by Michel Foucault


In the visual arts

Odilon Redon produced three sets of lithographies (1888, 1889, 1896), which deal with Flaubert's work and make up a quarter of his lithographic oeuvres.

Auch Max Beckmann setzt sich in einem seiner Triptychen (Die Versuchung) mit der Versuchung des heiligen Antonius auseinander.


The following is a list of major characters and does not include characters such as the gods or the prophets. A complete list of characters can be found in the glossary of the Random House edition (Olds, 195-233).

  • Saint Anthony: The protagonist. He is tempted by many characters and objects to stray from his belief that isolation is the truest form of worship.
  • Ammonaria: One of his sister's friends, Anthony is drawn into a battle between his desire for her and his desire to remain holy before God in his isolation. He is distraught that he cannot control his body.
  • King Nebuchadnezzar
  • The Queen of Sheba: Tempts Anthony with riches, trying to evoke lust.
  • Hilarion: Also known as Lucifer. Once Anthony's student, now he tries to tempt him away from his chosen lifestyle by creating doubt and eventually morphs into Science.
  • Lust and Death: Lust appears as a young woman; Death, an old woman. They try to convince Anthony to give in to his desires and commit suicide.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Temptation of Saint Anthony (Flaubert)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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