Although the age of the poem is debated, the associated texts are estimated to date near the eighth or ninth century BC. Research has estimated that the poem was composed on or near the region of Ionia, modern day Turkey. The poem focuses on Odysseus, succeeding the Trojan War. After departing Troy, he embarks on a 10 year voyage and encounters various mythological occurrences and creatures. Meanwhile, spouse Penelope and son Telemachus assume that death has stricken their beloved Odysseus, and attract numerous suitors seeking Penelope's devotion.

The preceding seven years of the voyage consists of Odysseus stranded on the island of the nymph, Calypso. Though he initially remained as a captive, the messenger god Hermes persuades Calypso to release Odysseus. Naturally, he is released and provided a raft. The god of the sea, Poseidon, however, conflicts with the intentions of Odysseus and thus destroys his life raft. After swimming ashore, Odysseus reveals himself to Queen Arete and eagerly describes his departure from Troy.

Interference with harsh weather permits the 12 ships commanded by Odysseus to seek refuge near the southern tip of Peloponnesus. It is here where the Lotus-Eaters reside, a lethargic tribe determined to replace the priorities of men with carelessness. Fortunately, Odysseus refuses to succumb and seeks nourishment elsewhere. The son of Poseidon, a Cyclopes named Polyphemus, entraps Odysseus and 12 of his men inside his cave as they scour for food. An offering of wine intoxicates Polyphemus, whom Odysseus does not hesitate to viciously deprive of his 1 eye. Blind and beaten, Polyphemus refused to allow the mortals to escape. Eventually, though, Odysseus outwits the Cyclopes and escapes tied to the bottom of sheep.

Shortly after they escape from the Cyclopes, the crew is beset by a tribe of cannibals known as Laestrygonians. 11 of the 12 ships are destroyed, and crew eaten. A visit to the witch goddess, Circe, deprives Odysseus of half of his remaining crew after transforming them into swine. A drug referred to as moly can apparently resist the evil magic, which Odysseus now wields. Further disobedience and unjustified acts of the crew men curse the lot, which eventually is punished. Odysseus remains as the soul survivor after washing ashore the island of Calypso.

Odysseus eventually arrives home, but only reveals himself to his son, Telemachus. After testing the faithfulness of Penelope, he engages in the competition among the fellow suitors. Though he undoubtedly conquers the remaining suitors, Odysseus fails to ignore their actions and murders each of the members. Athena, goddess and protector, finally fulfils her duties and spares Odysseus of his violent sins and inevitable punishment. The poem concludes acknowledging that Odysseus is still fated to wander inland until he discovers a people that fail to understand the ocean. Only then will the gods release Odysseus from his ill deprivations.