The Odyssey as we know it was created not in written word but rather in song.  Bards (singing poets) in pre-literate ancient Greece, accompanying themselves on stringed instruments called lyres, improvised in poetic meter songs of heroes and gods, many of whom are still familiar to us today: Zeus, Athena, Achilles, Hercules, and Odysseus, among others.

The Odyssey we read today is reputed to have been the work of a blind bard named Homer.  The existence and nature of Homer and his standing as an "author" are the subjects of much scholarly debate, but it is generally agreed that Homer's Odyssey grew out of centuries of epic bardic tradition and performances, stretching back to at least 1100 BCE.  The written poem as it stands in the modern age took shape as far back as the 6th century BCE when it was compiled and most likely edited.

Homer's Odyssey tells of the return home of Odysseus, a Greek warrior who fought in the Trojan War.  The Trojan War was a conflict between Trojans and Greeks at the citadel of Troy (which is in present day Turkey).  The historical events that serve as the basis for the legend of the Trojan War likely date to around 1200 BCE.

The events of Homer's Odyssey proper cover only a small portion (40 days or so) of Odysseus' 10 year return home from Troy, with additional portions of his journey related in third-person accounts and flashbacks.  The following is a chronology of the events leading up to and related in Homer's Odyssey.

Odysseus' story begins before and ends well after the Trojan War.

Odysseus accompanies the Greek armies to Troy, leaving behind his wife Penelope and an infant son Telemachus on his native land of Ithaca, an island off the western coast of the Peloponnesian peninsula.  The war, provoked by the abduction of the beautiful Helen by the Trojan Paris from the Greek King Menelaus, is waged for 10 years.  The Greeks finally sack Troy by virtue of the famous Trojan Horse, a stratagem conceived of by Odysseus: 

Following the war, the Greek warriors begin their journeys home, which would have been told by bards in stories similar to The Odyssey (these stories are called nostoi or "homecomings" in Greek).  One particularly famous nostos is related in the Oresteia trilogy by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus: the disastrous homecoming of King Agamemnon (the brother of King Menelaus).  Odysseus, however, has disrespected the god Poseidon, and Poseidon complicates and hampers Odysseus' homecoming until Odysseus becomes the last Trojan War hero to reach home, landing on Ithaca some 20 years after he leaves for Troy.

(Cont. at The Story 2)