Plot and Timeline

The plot of the Odyssey can be confusing at times. The poem starts in Medias Res. This means that the poem begins “into the middle of the story.” This is a traditional form for epics (for more on this term, see the Homer's Poetry page). In the Odyssey, the story begins twenty years into the story with Telemachos and his story and travels. The first four books consist of this story. Books five through eight are Odysseus and his current position. Books nine through thirteen bring us back to the beginning of the story when Odysseus tells the story of his wanderings. The remaining books in the epic are the continuation of the story, from the middle to the end. Odysseus comes back to Ithaka and defeats the suitors. The timeline shows events as they happened in time; while the plot is given in the order the epic is written.

Timeline

Books I - IV

Telemachos' Journeys

  • Council of the Gods: The epic begins with the gods coming together on Olympus and Athene asking for Odysseus’ return home. Odysseus is on Oygia, Kalypso’s island, and is unable to return home for Poseidon is still angry with him. However, Poseidon is away so the gods decide to bring Odysseus home, Athene sends Hermes to Kalypso, and to also go to Telemachos and tell him to search for news of his father.
  • At Ithaka: Athen travels to Ithaka and disguises herself as Mentes, an old friend to Odysseus. She talks to Telemachos about the abhorrent nature of the suitors who are lounging in his home and gives him two pieces of advice: 1. to assemble the people of the island and try to rid his home of the suitors and 2. to travel and try to locate news of his father. After she has left, Telemachos realizes that he was speaking to a god, and decides to follow the advice.
  • Assembly: Telemachos gathers the people of the island to give his plea that the suitors be removed. He is met with resistance from the suitors, especially Antinoos and Eurymachos. Everyone dismisses his request against the suitors and for a ship to use to search for news of Odysseus. And the council he had called, even though there is an omen that says the suitors will die if they remain, is dismissed out of hand.
  • That Night: Athene comes in the guise of Mentor and ruses Telemachos to go. He rises and gathers a crew and they leave in the night.
  • Pylos: Telemachos sails to Pylos, the home of Nestor. There he is greeted kindly and he asks Nestor if he has heard any news of Odysseus. He has not, but says that Menelaus might. He equips Telemachos with a chariot and a guide and sends him on his way to Menelaus.
  • Sparta: He gets to Sparta during a wedding celebration for Menelaus’ son. He stays a night with Menelaus and Helen. They tell stories of Troy and of Odysseus, but Menelaus has heard no concrete word of Odysseus. He did get information from Proteus, a sea god, that might pertain to Odysseus. Telemachos thanks him and leaves back to his ship and Ithaka.

Books V - VIII

Odysseus' Return from Kalypso

Books IX - XIII

The 'Great Wanderings'

Books XIV - XXIV

Odysseus' Return to Ithaka and Revenge on the Suitors

Maps

Map of Ancient Greece

Odysseus' Journey