Homer's Odyssey begins not with Odysseus, but with his son and wife awaiting his return.  Odysseus' home has been overrun by 108 Suitors intent on marrying the "widowed" Penelope.  Telemachus, now a young man, is coming of age and struggles with the memory of his father and the question of his lineage.  He decides to set off into the world and once and for all discover his father's fate, still in doubt after so many years.  His journey takes him to the kingdom of Menelaus and Helen, where Menelaus tells Telemachus tales of Odysseus' exploits at Troy and in the years following.  Penelope remains on Ithaca , where she has developed her own stratagem to avoid giving herself to remarriage: she has told the 108 impatient Suitors that she will decide on a new husband when she finishes weaving a funeral shroud for Odysseus.  She weaves all day and at night, by candlelight, unweaves the cloth woven during the preceding day.

It is at this point in the poem that we meet Odysseus, who has been stranded on the island of Ogygia for seven years, held captive by Calypso the nymph.  Through the intervention of the goddess Athena, Calypso frees Odysseus to continue on his journey home, and he builds a raft and heads out on the wine-dark sea.  But his freedom is short-lived when Poseidon shipwrecks him with a vicious storm.  An exhausted Odysseus finds refuge on a strange island, the island of Phaiakia.  Aided (as always) by Athena, Odysseus finds shelter and food with the kind king of Phaiakia, Alcinous, his wife Arete, and their beautiful daughter Nausicaa.

In the court of Alcinous, Odysseus eats and drinks and listens to a blind poet sing of Odysseus' own exploits in the Trojan War.  Following the performance, Alcinous presses Odysseus for news of his wanderings, and Odysseus obliges by telling of his journeys since the end of the War.  It is through this narrative that many of the most well-known parts of Odysseus' travels are related: The Cyclops, Skylla and Chrybdis, the Lotus Eates, King Aeolos (the Wind King), the Sirens, and the witch Circe to name a few.  In these incidents, Odysseus' return home is foiled by circumstance, his recklessness, the foolishness of his companions, or divine intervention.  As one point, he nearly reaches the shore of Ithaca, only to be further delayed when his curious shipmates release the winds of Aeolos from their bag, driving Odysseus' ship back out to sea.

After the banquet and storytelling, Odysseus sets off from Phaiakia on what he hopes to be the final leg of his long journey home.  Upon finally arriving on Ithaca (again, with assistance from Athena), he assumes the guise of a beggar in order to covertly assess the situation in his home.

(Cont. at The Story 3)