As the first monk in the desert, Antony became an early Christian superstar, eclipsing his many ascetic predecessors. The introduction of asceticism into the wilderness also represented an encounter between Christian and Hellenistic ideas. For centuries Greeks had considered the uncultivated geography intrinsically primordial, a chaotic place where man struggled to remain human. The wilderness represented an eternal ordeal, where man always faced fierce beasts, disorder, and death, but also where simultaneously he could attain boundless wealth, wisdom, and even physical immortality.
Through Athanasius of Alexandria’s fourth-century biography of Antony, we learn how the Christian appropriation of Greek ideas on geography, bodies and immortality raised asceticism to an entirely new level. Placed in his uncultivated landscape, Antony became a true martyr, an athlete of God, and a holy man able to retrieve the bodily incorruptibility lost in the Fall, which all Christians could look forward to at the end of times. In this way Athanasius employed a traditional Greek worldview to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity over Paganism, which never promised ordinary people anything but an eternal existence as dead and disembodied souls.