Sing to me of the versatile man, o Muse, who sacked the sacred citadel of Troy . . .
So begins The Odyssey, that great epic, sung for hundreds of years, read for thousands more. California teacher and poet Ladewig takes that as the point of departure for his inventive verse re-imagining of the poem, adding words and lines that gloss the original with specific images. At his opening, for instance, Ladewig imagines Odysseus not just adrift as he weathered his long voyage home, but â€œalone / and naked, swimming in the raging sea, / wondering how and why it had all come to pass.” The Greek original does not depict Odysseus as a particularly reflective man, but this, after all, comes 3,000-odd years later, and contemporary concerns have always been admissible in the great poem. Moreover, Ladewig’s shadings remain faithful to the spirit if not the letter of the Greek text, and each of the original’s 24 books is rendered or at least anticipated while he fills in a gap or two, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra’s pillow talk among the lacunae. Admirers of Homer’s immediacy and thick description will not be disappointed in Ladewig, who keeps the blood and guts flowing: â€œThe spear / struck dead center on the shield of Ajax, / bouncing back into the thrower's face / . . . . / The ripping bronze cut through the tongue at root / and snapped the neck connecting spine to skull.” There are a few slips in word choice and diction (â€œwhen I first discovered love with sweet / Penelope, and even way before”), but overall Ladewig works at a competent level. And, sagely, he leaves room for a sequel (â€œknowing very well that his adventures / were not quite all accomplished yet”), perhaps something that will pick up where Nikos Kazantzakis’s leaves off.
A pleasing, readable–even singable–addition to Homerica.