Tag Archives: Anthony the Great

Kleos for Antony the Great?

‚ÄčI was reading Athanasius’ Life of Antony for one of my classes, and I came across something really interesting. Here’s the text that struck me:

Nor was the Lord then forgetful of Antony’s wrestling [with demons], but was at hand to help him. So looking up he [Antony] saw the roof as it were opened, and a ray of light descending to him. The demons suddenly vanished, the pain of his body straightway ceased, and the building was again whole. But Antony feeling the help, and getting his breath again, and being freed from pain, besought the vision which had appeared to him, saying, “Where wert thou? Why didst thou not appear at the beginning to make my pains to cease?” And a voice came to him, “Antony, I was here, but I waited to see thy fight; wherefore since thou hast endured, and hast not been worsted, I will ever be a succour to thee, and will make thy name known everywhere.” Having heard his, Antony arose and prayed, and received such strength that he perceived that he had more power in his body than formerly. And he was then about thirty-five years old.

(Athanasius, Life of Antony 10. From NPNF, second series, vol. 4. Emphasis added.

I think it’s interesting how Athanasius portrays Antony here; it’s as if Antony is a Christian form of a hero from ancient Greek epic. First, Antony secures divine favor specifically because he is a courageous fighter against his enemies, the demons — later, he even squares off with Satan himself and is victorious (Life of Antony 41). Second, God promises Antony fame on Earth for his bravery in battle. Now, one would expect God to promise Antony with a heavenly reward for being so courageous when fighting his demonic adversaries, so it’s a little surprising to see God offer him Earthly fame instead.

God’s promise of everlasting fame for Antony sounds remarkably like the heroic goal of kleos (“fame,” “repute”). For instance, Achilles’ goal in fighting as bravely and as fiercely as he did in the Trojan War (as narrated in the Iliad) was to win kleos on the earth, since after death, all that awaited him as a shadowy existence in Hades.

Moreover, Athanasius’ focus here is all the more interesting, since just a few paragraphs before, he has Antony hearing and obeying verses from the Gospel of Matthew, which has a strong focus on believers getting rewarded for their righteousness in the “kingdom of Heaven.” It seems strange to me that Athanasius would have Antony immediately obeying Jesus’ commands in Matthew, but would put Antony’s rewards on Earth, not Heaven. Thus, it’s my conclusion that Athanasius has God promising Antony kleos, in the same sort of way that Greek heroes, like Achilles, sought kleos while they were alive.

Further, I see two possible outworkings of this conclusion. First, Athanasius seems okay with earthly fame, at least for people who are worthy of it. Second, in setting up Antony as a model to be followed (his explicit goal, Life of Antony 94), Athanasius is also implicitly a share of
kleos for anyone who lives the same sort of life as Antony.

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