The Odyssey picks up 9 years after The Illiad left off. If you remember, The Illiad ended with the death of Hector but Troy remained unsacked. Well those of us who know the history know that Troy did fall and The Odyssey recounts that and the adventures of Odysseus.
On his way home to Ithaca where his wife Penelope and son Telemachus await, Odysseus takes a 9 year detour by the hands of the Gods. Odysseus claims to be the most ill-fated man alive because of the trials the Gods put him through, but you will notice that every single ill fat he got came about by his own actions or the actions of his ship crew.
At the heart of The Odyssey, the theme if you will, is a man who seeks adventure. This book could very well be the origins of all adventure stories. Jason Campbell calls these type of stories monomyths and they all follow the same pattern: separation (leaving home), initiation (trials), and the return home. Odysseus leaves his home to fight in the Battle of Troy, faces many challenges, and then finally returns home after 20 years.
Maybe it was the particular translation I have, but I found myself bored at times while reading. It just didn’t flow very well as a novel which is what the translator, T.H Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, turned it into with his prose. The story obviously is timeless and I read it mainly for the story. Eventually I will have to pick up the Richmond Lattimore translation of both books where I understand the style tries to keep the more poetic nature of the originals. It actually works out fine for me as his version of The Illiad is a required reading for a humanities course I want to take on Ancient Greece.