Reading the story An Egyptian Hornet by A.Blackwood, I am not sure what to make of the following sentence: (for the context, a reverend hopes for a hornet to sting his enemy):

“May God forgive me!” ran subconsciously through his mind. And side by side with the repentant prayer ran also a recognition of the tempter’s eternal skill: “I hope the devil it will sting him!”

While I understand the words, it does not make much sense to me and would appreciate some help with understanding its true meaning. Thanks a lot

3 Answers 3


"Eternal skill" means exactly what a dictionary would tell you it means.

Eternal means 'lasting forever'; in some cases 'without beginning or end'. Infinite.

A skill is an ability that one possesses.

So an eternal skill would be an ability that someone has had forever, or will have forever into the future.

'The Tempter', mentioned in your quotation, is one of many names given to the Devil in the Bible. This is why he is spoken of as having an 'eternal skill', presumably of temptation, because of the belief that spirit beings are eternal.

  • 1
    Can't eternal also be used in another sense than temporal, such as spatially, for something like "infinitely big"? So it could just mean limitless skill, which also makes sense here. Jan 4, 2021 at 16:54
  • @AlexanderWolters I'd agree with you (although that's a non-standard use of eternal which wouldn't be understood in a regular context).
    – dbmag9
    Jan 4, 2021 at 17:24
  • I suppose "eternal skill" could also be used metaphorically for someone who's naturally skilled at something. But I agree that, in this case, the literal interpretation makes the most sense.
    – Llewellyn
    Jan 4, 2021 at 17:45

The "tempter" is the devil, Satan. His "eternal skill" is to get people to do wicked things. The thought "I hope the devil..." (phrased the same as "I pray God...") is a recognition that he is giving into temptation.

Eternal is just the dictionary definition: "lasting forever, without end"

  • You haven't explicitly addressed the question in the title. ("eternal") Jan 4, 2021 at 17:27

TL;DR the reverend thinks at the same time:

  1. poor enemy, I wish he lives, and
  2. damn enemy, I wish he dies

It's misleading to focus on "eternal skill"; rather, this being a poetic phrase, think about the contrast of how a holy man is supposed to have compassion to any human being or anything alive (even if an enemy) versus his human response to see that person/thing suffer (because they are the enemy).

The highlighted part is really added for colour. If it were not there, the meaning of the sentence would remain the same.

In detail: "recognition" refers to the reverend acknowledging that he has human emotions, like hatred; "tempter's skill" (here) is essentially hatred; and it's "eternal" because the tempter is eternal, meaning that people always had capacity for hatred. It may help to mentally group this phrase as "eternal tempter's skill".

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