Books 1-4 focus upon Odysseus’ son, Telemachos, his efforts to expel the suitors of his mother, Penelope, from their house, and his journey to Pylos and Sparta in search of news of his father.
Homer asks the Muse to tell the story of Odysseus and his wanderings.  Among the gods on Mount Olympos, Zeus remarks on the folly of Aigisthos who ignored divine warnings, seduced Agamemnon’s wife, Klytaimestra, and plotted his murder, only to be killed in revenge by Orestes, Agamemnon’s son.  The goddess, Athene, persuades her father, Zeus, that Odysseus should be allowed to return home, despite the anger of the god of the sea, Poseidon, over Odysseus’ blinding of his son, Polyphemos, the Cyclops.  Athena goes to Ithaka in disguise to give advice to Odysseus' son, Telemachos.  She urges him to visit the Greek kings, Nestor and Menelaos, in search of news of Odysseus.  Telemachos calls an assembly for the next day and threatens to expel the suitors of his mother, Penelope, from the house.
In the opening lines, the poet describes the fate of Odysseus' companions:
"...he could not save his companions, hard though
he strove to; they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness.
fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the Sun God." (Odyssey 1.6-8/Lattimore translation)
-Compare this emphasis on the folly of the men - and its consequences - with the emphasis on the "will of Zeus" and the protagonism of Apollo in the opening lines of the Iliad.
Zeus comments on the fate of Agamemnon's murderer, Aigisthos, who was killed by Agamemnon's son, Orestes:
"Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say
that we devise their misery. But they
themselves - in their depravity - design
griefs greater than the griefs that fate assigns.
So did Aigisthos act when he transgressed
the boundaries that fate and reason set" (Odyssey 1.32-35/Mandelbaum translation)
-Compare Zeus' remarks with Achilleus' story of the urns of Zeus in which he ascribes human suffering to the whimsical action of Zeus.
Telemachos complains to the assembly about the conduct of the suitors, and he asks them to return to their own homes.  Two of the leading suitors, Antinoos and Eurymachos, blame Penelope for not choosing one of the suitors to be her husband; Antinoos describes how Penelope tricked them and delayed her promised decision by weaving by day - and undoing by night - a shroud for Odysseus’ father, Laertes.  With Athene's help, Telemachos gets a ship and sails for Pylos, the city of Nestor, one of the aged veterans of the Trojan War.
At Pylos, Telemachos is received by king Nestor who tells him stories of the departure from Troy, the murder of Agamemnon and the homecoming of Menelaos.  Prompted by Telemachos’ questions, Nestor describes in more detail the story of Aigisthos and Klytaimestra, their plot against Agamemnon, and Orestes’ avenging of his father’s murder.  Nestor sends his son, Peisistratos, to accompany Telemachos to Sparta, the city of Menelaos.
Telemachos and Peisistratos arrive at Menelaos' palace at Sparta where the king is celebrating the two weddings of his children, Hermione and Megapenthes.  Menelaos welcomes them and is joined by his wife, Helen.  They recall Odysseus' exploits at Troy with a pair of stories that provide contrasting views of Helen’s own role at Troy.  The next day, Menelaos describes his encounter with Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, who had told him of the death of Aias Oileus at sea, of the murder of his own brother Agamemnon, and of the captivity of Odysseus on Ogygia, the island of the nymph, Kalypso.  Meanwhile, at Ithaka, the suitors hear of Telemachos' departure and prepare an ambush for him.  Penelope learns of Telemachos’ journey, grieves, and is comforted by a vision of Athene in a dream.
Helen and Menelaos tell Telemachos back-to-back stories of his father's exploits at Troy. Helen describes Odysseus's secret expedition, disguised as a beggar, into the city of Troy; Menelaos tells how Odysseus maintained the troops' discipline as they waited inside the Trojan horse. While both stories portray Odysseus as a bold, strong, and crafty hero, they present sharply contrasting views of Helen.
Helen recalls her own feelings of joy when Odysseus slaughtered many Trojans before leaving the city:
"The Trojan women raised a cry - but my heart
sang - for I had come round, long before,
to dreams of sailing home, and I repented
the mad day Aphrodite
drew me away from my dear fatherland,
forsaking all - child, bridal bed, and husband -
a man without defect in form or mind." (Odyssey 4.259-64/Fitzgerald translation)
Menelaos, by contrast, described how Helen circled the Trojan horse with her second husband, Deiphobos, imitating the voices of the wives of the Greek warriors, to determine whether the Greeks were hiding in the horse:
"You must have been incited by some god
who wanted to give glory to the Trojans.
Handsome Deiphobos had followed you...
upon the Danaan chieftains, naming each;
you mimed in turn the voice of all the wives
of Argives in that horse." (Odyssey 4. 274-79/Mandelbaum translation)

Books 5 -12 describe Odysseus’ release by Kalypso, and his arrival and reception in the land of the Phaiakians, an idealized kingdom. There he tells the story of his wanderings
At Athene's urging, Zeus sends the messenger god, Hermes, to the nymph, Kalypso, to tell her to allow Odysseus to go home.  Odysseus makes a raft and sails towards Scheria, the land of the Phaiakians.  The sea-god, Poseidon, still angry at Odysseus, wrecks his raft, but Odysseus reaches shore safely with the help of Athene and the sea nymph, Ino.
Threatened by shipwreck at sea, Odysseus wishes he had died at Troy, winning fame, on the day when he fought the Trojans for the body of slain Achilleus:
"Three and four times more blessed were all the Greeks
who died in the vast land of Troy to please
the sons of Atreus. Would that I had met
a death like theirs, had shared their destiny
upon the day when crowds of Trojans cast
bronze shafts at me, while battling around the body
of Peleus' slaughtered son. I would have gained
funeral rites; I would have earned much fame." (Odyssey 5.306-311/Mandelbaum translation)
Ironically, Odysseus wins fame not by dying a glorious death, but by surviving to tell the story of his journeys and regain his wife, son, and household. In fact, he even visited the land of the dead, and, there, he reminded the shade of Achilleus of the honor he had while alive, and the authority he holds among the dead:
"...Before, when you were alive, we Argives honored you
as we did the gods, and now in this place you have great authority
over the dead. Do not grieve, even in death, Achilleus." (Odyssey 11.484-486/Lattimore translation)
Achilleus' sharp reply offers a final reflection on his struggle for immortality, and his decision to accept a short life with glory:
"O shining Odysseus, never try to console me for dying.
I would rather follow the plow as thrall to another
man, one with no land allotted him and not much to live on,
than be a king over all the perished dead." (Odyssey 11. 488-491/Lattimore translation)

The next morning, Nausikaa, the daughter of the Phaiakian king and queen, is inspired by Athene to go to the river to wash clothes.  Odysseus appears, startles Nausikaa and her attendants, and begs for her help.  She gives him clothes, and advises him how to reach the palace of her father, Alkinoos.
Odysseus arrives at the palace of Alkinoos and appeals to queen Arete for help.  He is given a place at the feast.  Alkinoos orders a feast for the next day and promises to arrange Odysseus' return to his own country.  Without identifying himself, Odysseus describes his stay on Kalypso's island and his journey to Scheria.  Inviting him to stay, Alkinoos offers a marriage with his daughter, Nausikaa, but he pledges that the Phaiakians will escort Odysseus to his home, if that is what he wishes.
At the Phaiakian feast, the singer, Demodokos, sings of Troy, and athletic contests are held.  Alkinoos’ son, Laodamas, invites Odysseus to participate and, after he is rudely challenged by Euryalos, another of the Phaiakians, he proves his ability with a throw of the discus.  Demodokos sings of the adulterous love of Ares, god of war, and Aphrodite, goddess of love, and how Hephaistos, Aphrodite's husband, caught them and exposed them to the ridicule of the other gods.  Odysseus is given splendid gifts by the Phaiakians.  At his request, Demodokos sings of the Trojan horse.  When Odysseus is moved to tears, he is asked to reveal his name and tell why he wept over the stories of Troy.
Odysseus identifies himself, and begins the story of his wanderings.  He describes his departure from Troy, beginning with the raid on the Kikonians, during which, he alleges, his men’s folly led to the loss of many of his companions.  Then, he tells of the visit to the land of the Lotus-Eaters whose food made his men forget their home.  Finally, he describes his adventures in the land of the Cyclops.  He tells how he and some of his men were held captive by Polyphemos, the Cyclops, and how Polyphemos ate some of his men before Odysseus and his remaining companions got him drunk, blinded him and escaped his cave by a trick.  After Odysseus boasted of his success, Polyphemos prayed to his father, Poseidon, god of the sea, for revenge, and this provoked Poseidon's deep anger with Odysseus.
THE ODYSSEY: Order and chaos
The Phaiakian court offers an idealized model of civilized behavior in which the guest is properly welcomed, the banquet is graced with song, and generous gifts are given. By contrast, Odysseus' wanderings take him through lands in which the practices of civilized life - as the early Greeks understood it - were unknown, ignored, or perverted. The land of the giant Cyclops, described in wholly negative terms, provides the most famous example:
"That race is arrogant: they have no laws;
and trusting in the never-dying gods,
their hands plant nothing and they ply no plows...
Nor do they meet in council, those Cyclops,
nor hand down laws; they live on mountaintops,
in deep caves; each one rules his wife and children,
and every family ignores its neighbors...
                          ...Elsewhere, across
hilltops and woods, the hunters toil; but here
they do not come. Nor are there sheep or cows;
and that land always stays unsown, unplowed...
The Cyclops have no ships with crimson bows,
no shipwrights who might fashion sturdy hulls
that answer to the call, that sail across
to other peoples' towns that men might want
to visit." (Odyssey 9.106-129/Mandelbaum translation)
Odysseus tells how he and his men reached the island home of Aiolos, a king to whom the gods had given control over the winds.  Aiolos gave Odysseus a bag containing the winds to guarantee him a safe journey home.  His men, however, believed that the bag held treasure.  As they approached Ithaka, Odysseus slept, and the men opened the bag.  As a result, they were blown back to Aiolos' island, but he refused to help them.  They sailed on and reached the land of the Laistrygonians.  These giants savagely attacked them and destroyed all of the ships except Odysseus' own.  Then, Odysseus landed on the island of Circe, an enchantress, who turned a group of his men into pigs.  With a charm from the god, Hermes, Odysseus escaped from Circe's spell, and she returned his men to him again.  Odysseus and his men were entertained for a year on Circe's island.  Before they left, Circe told him he had to visit the land of the dead and gave him instructions on how to consult the prophet, Teiresias.
At the land of the dead, Teiresias, told him of his homecoming, warned him not to touch the herds of the sun god, Helios, and described one last journey that he would have to make.  Then, he spoke with his mother, Antikleia, and a series of ancient noblewomen.  Here, Odysseus pauses in his story, and is praised by queen Arete.  For his part, Alkinoos urges him to continue and tell of his meeting with the shades of the Greek heroes.  He recounts his conversations with Agamemnon and Achilleus, and describes the other mythological heroes he saw.
Odysseus tells how he and his men returned to Circe's island; she warned him of the dangers ahead.  They sailed past the Sirens and Odysseus, tied to the mast, heard their song.  Then, they passed Charybdis, the whirlpool, and Skylla, the monster, who ate six of Odysseus' men.  At the insistence of one of Odysseus’ companions, Eurylochos, they landed on Thrinakia, the island of Helios, the sun-god.  Storms held them there for over a month and, despite Odysseus’ warnings, his men slaughtered the cattle of the sun god while Odysseus slept.  Zeus punished them with a storm at sea, and only Odysseus was spared.  He reached the island of Kalypso and, with that, he ends his story.
The poet of the Odyssey explores the ways stories can be told from different points of view, like the images of Helen at Troy or the different versions of the story of Agamemnon's murder. With Odysseus' many tales and disguises, he offers examples of true and false stories, and challenges his audience to tell them apart. Surely, some of this fascination with the differences among stories arises from the poet's own efforts to establish his poem's independence from the Iliad, and to establish his own hero, Odysseus, with a different set of values from Achilleus. Occasionally, we may see more direct criticisms or comments upon the story of the Trojan War...and perhaps the Iliad.
Nestor, never one to shy from a long story, begins to summarize the Trojan War for Telemachos, but gives up, exclaiming:
"Other miseries, and many, we endured there.
Could any mortal man tell the whole story?
Not if you stayed five years or six to hear
how hard it was for the flower of the Achaians;
you'd go home weary, and the tale untold." (Odyssey 3.113-17/Fitzgerald translation)
Later, Odysseus' describes the Song of the Sirens around whom lie "heaped bones and shriveled skin of putrefying men" (Odyssey 12.45-46/Mandelbaum translation): those who stopped to hear their song.  Their dangerously seductive and destructive song  turns out to be - like the Iliad - the tale of Troy:
"...we know everything that the Argives and Trojans
did and suffered in wide Troy through the gods' despite." (Odyssey 12.189-90)
In books 13 to 16, Odysseus and his son, Telemachos, return separately to Ithaka; Odysseus reveals himself to his son and plots revenge on the suitors before returning to his palace.
The Phaiakians bring Odysseus to Ithaka and leave him sleeping on the island.  On their return, Poseidon turns their ship to stone.  Athene comes to Odysseus in disguise, and tells him that he has landed on Ithaka.  He conceals his identity and tells her a false story of how, after the Trojan War, he killed Idomeneus' son on Crete and fled the island.  She reveals herself to him, advises him on how to overcome the suitors, and disguises him as an old tramp.
Odysseus goes to house of Eumaios, his loyal swineherd, who receives him well.  Odysseus tells him a false story of his life, claiming that he was a Cretan warrior who led troops to Troy and, afterwards, journeyed to Egypt, Phoenicia and other places, experiencing many adventures.  Later, he tells him another false story of an adventure at Troy to win a cloak from him.
Urged by Athene, Telemachos leaves Menelaos' palace at Sparta.  When he sails home from Pylos, he takes Theoklymenos, a fugitive prophet, with him.  At Ithaka, Eumaios urges the disguised Odysseus to wait for Telemachos before going to beg from the suitors at their banquet.  He answers Odysseus' questions about his house and his father, and tells Odysseus the story of how he was kidnapped by a Phoenician servant, enslaved and purchased by Laertes.  Meanwhile, Telemachos escapes the ambush of the suitors and reaches Ithaka safely.
Telemachos visits Eumaios, and sends him to inform Penelope of his arrival.  Odysseus reveals himself to Telemachos, and they plan their revenge against the suitors.  Penelope and the suitors learn that Telemachos has returned, and the suitors consider whether they should kill him.  Penelope rebukes the suitors for their plots.

In books 17-23, Odysseus returns to his palace, disguised as a beggar, and he is abused by the suitors.  His wife, Penelope, proposes a contest with Odysseus’ bow to determine which of the suitors she will marry, and, after all fail, the disguised Odysseus strings the bow, shoots his mark, reveals himself, and attacks the suitors.  All of the suitors are slaughtered, the disloyal servants are punished and Odysseus and Penelope are reunited.
Telemachos returns to his house, and tells Penelope about his journey.  The seer, Theoklymenos, prophesies Odysseus’ imminent return.  Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, goes to the house with Eumaios.  They meet Melanthios, the goatherd, who abuses him.  When they reach the house, Odysseus' old dog, Argos, recognizes him before he dies.  Odysseus begs from the suitors, and tells them a false story of his adventures.  Antinoos, the leading suitor, abuses Odysseus and hurls a stool at him.  Eumaios tells Penelope of the “stranger” and his stories.
The beggar, Iros, arrives, challenges Odysseus, and is beaten by him in a boxing match.  Odysseus warns one of the suitors, Amphinomos, of their reckless behavior.  Penelope comes down and complains about the suitors' behavior.  The feast breaks up in disorder, after Odysseus angers Eurymachos, one of the suitors.
Odysseus and Telemachos remove the arms and armor from the hall.  Penelope questions Odysseus.  He tells her a false story, and they converse.  The nurse, Eurykleia, washes Odysseus' feet and recognizes his scar.  She almost gives away his identity.  Penelope proposes to set up a contest for the suitors with Odysseus' bow.  She will marry the winner.
The next day, the suitors gather in the house of Odysseus.  Odysseus meets Philoitios, his faithful cowherd, and he prophesies his own return.  The suitors put off their plot to murder Telemachos.  The prophet, Theoklymenos, foresees the doom of the suitors.
Penelope announces the contest to the suitors, but they fail to string the bow.  Meanwhile, Odysseus quietly reveals himself to his two loyal servants, Eumaios and Philoitios.  Despite the suitors' protests, Odysseus is given the bow.  He strings it and shoots through the row of axes.
Odysseus shoots Antinoos and reveals himself.  The battle begins, and, with Athene's help, the suitors are killed.  The unfaithful maids and Melanthios are brutally punished.
Eurykleia reveals to Penelope that Odysseus has returned and defeated the suitors.  Penelope is sceptical, and she tests Odysseus with a story of their bed.  She recognizes him by his response, they are joyfully reunited, and they tell one another about their trials.
BOOK 24 seems to some an odd appendix or epilogue to the text.  In it, the scene shifts to the underworld as Hermes leads the shades of the suitors to the land of the dead. There, Agamemnon and Achilleus are talking about each other's deaths, and Agamemnon describes the funeral of Achilleus. The ghosts of the suitors arrive and describe their fate to the heroes of Troy.  Agamemnon praises Odysseus' wife, Penelope, for her faithfulness, and curses his own wife, Klytaimestra. Meanwhile, Odysseus goes to the farm of his father, Laertes, and, after telling a false story, reveals himself.  The suitors' relatives plan revenge.  After one of them is killed, Athene intervenes to make peace.
It might seem odd that the shade of Agamemnon recalls the funeral of Achilleus near the end of the Iliad, but it is consistent with the effort in both the Iliad and the Odyssey to frame a particular story of one hero within the larger context of the Trojan War and its aftermath. In the Odyssey, this ending marks the last word in the poet's struggle with the Iliad: by describing Achilleus' death and funeral, the poet of the Odyssey "completes" the Iliad. That this final episode is told by the shade of Agamemnon to the shade of Achilleus, in the land of the dead, only underscores the contrast between Achilleus' choice of a short life and Odysseus' struggle to survive. Of course, we might also read a final tribute to the Iliad in the poet's description of the nine Muses singing a dirge over Achilleus' corpse. We may never be sure what the poet of the Odyssey's final verdict on the Iliad is, but that, after all, is the conclusion we should expect from an epic that invites us to compare different stories, to hear different voices, and to distinguish truth from lies. As Hesiod's Muses would say, "We know enough to make up lies which are convincing, but we also have the skill, when we've a mind, to speak the truth." (Theogony 26-28).  With this, we look backwards to the world of the ever-changing oral epic, and forwards to the individual, named poets of the lyric age and their diverse personae.

Short quotations are taken from the following translations:
Homer: the Odyssey, translated by Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998. (© 1961/1989 Fitzgerald family).
The Odyssey of Homer. A Modern Translation by Richmond Lattimore. New York: Harper & Row, 1965 (©Richmond Lattimore).
The Odyssey of Homer. A verse translation by Allen Mandelbaum. New York: Bantam Classics, 1991 (©Allen Mandelbaum).
Hesiod and Theognis. Translated by Dorothea Wender. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973.