The Temptation of St. Antony is based on the story of the third-century saint who lived on an isolated mountaintop in the Egyptian desert. Saint Anthony, while living in the desert, remembers former temptations and is beset by the onslaught of philosophic doubt.
It is in the Thebaïd, on the heights of a mountain, where a platform, shaped like a crescent, is surrounded by huge stones. The Hermit's cell occupies the background. It is built of mud and reeds, flat–roofed and doorless. Inside are seen a pitcher and a loaf of black bread; in the centre, on a wooden support, a large book; on the ground, here and there, bits of rush–work, a mat or two, a basket and a knife. Some ten paces or so from the cell a tall cross is planted in the ground; and, at the other end of the platform, a gnarled old palm–tree leans over the abyss, for the side of the mountain is scarped; and at the bottom of the cliff the Nile swells, as it were, into a lake.