By Robert Levine
Viator, Vol.2 (1971)
Introduction: Students of Beowulf are familiar with the notion that the poem can be read as an attempt to answer Alcuin’s question, ‘Quid enim Hinieldus cum Christo?’ (What has Ingeld to do with Christ?). More than two centuries later, a similar complaint was registered by a certain Meinhard against Bishop Gunter of Bamberg: ‘Numquam ille Augustium, numquam ille Gregorium recolit, semper ille Attalam, semper Amalungum et cetera idgenus portare [or, pro tempore] tractat.’ Both Alcuin and Meinhard clearly see secular heroism and Christian principles as mutually exclusive ideals; for them, the physically active, pridefully and violently assertive, materialistic and frequently murderous pagan hero cannot be reconciled with the gentle, humbly submissive protagonist of the New Testament, whose most glorious act is to allow himself to be killed. Christ’s ‘passion’ is, of course paradigmatically, as well as etymologically ‘passive’.