As with such events like the Trojan War, Jason and the Argonauts, and the Seven Against Thebes, the Odyssey has little real interest here save for estimating dates. It is unnecessary for our purposes as we have already dated the Trojan War itself. However I feel it necessary to try and give some credence to it being an actual event rather than some nonsensical myth.
The Bible is similar. Atheists will dismiss the Bible out of hand, simply because it defies logic as we understand it. In truth there is much historical fact in the Bible, it just needs to be identified by using a different perception. Ancient Greek epic poems and plays require a similar view. Total belief is flawed, as is total disbelief.
The Odyssey is another epic poem of Homeric origin. It tells the tale of Odysseus and his crew travelling home from the Trojan War. Again the debate flares up about dates of Homer. giving weight to those who believe Homer was actually a movement / group / zeitgeist, as opposed to a specific person. Herodotus places Homer at 400 years before his time and this date of around 850 BC I think is most reliable. 'Experts' give a date of origin from around 825-760 BC and a date of writing between 760-710 BC. Some date Homer as early as 1102 BC - a date attributed to the Return of the Heracleidae - reinforcing the 'Homer may not be a single person' view.
With much conjecture on the topic, I tend to favour the earliest source. The more hands a story passes through the less reliable it becomes, especially in antiquity. Political influence would colour a version from a nervous poet / philosopher, it certainly did with Plato. Many sources state the Homeric epics were of the Ionian dialect from the coastal areas of Turkey (as shown on our hypothesised basic migratory map), but it was an amalgam of Ionic and Aeolic dialects. The Odyssey is not written in chronological order, the third part is Odysseus reflecting on what had happened since leaving Troy.
According to Homer, Odysseus waits 10 years before leaving Troy and is held captive by Calypso for 10 years. Dating the Trojan War to 1190 BC due to the archaeological data we get another 10 year anomaly (the duration of the war). Is the archaeological evidence giving information for the start, middle, or end of the war? It could in effect give us a date for Odysseus' return home as late as 1160 BC roughly a generation before the Dorian Invasion. There is almost a link to the earliest date attributed to the 'Homeric Era' or what experts refer to as the Greek Dark Ages.
On the journey back from Troy, Odysseus had gathered his legion and set sail aboard twelve ships. The voyage began with calm seas and after a few days, they sighted land. The accounts vary, some stating second-in-command Eurylochus and Odysseus drew lots to see who would lead an expedition ashore, others say Eurylochus urged Odysseus to send a landing party ashore to pillage the settlement.
The most accepted account sees Odysseus and his crew plunder an empty town as the Ciconians, a Thracian tribe, fled into the mountains. The crew ate and drank heartily only for the Ciconians to return with their fierce neighbours. They killed many of the plunderers before Odysseus and the other survivors escaped back to the ships. Odysseus and Eurylochus had handbags at 10 paces before the crew split it up and order was restored.
Little happened until they had sailed through the Aegean and were then blown off course to the land of the Lotus-Eaters. This was most likely Tunisia. Some of the crew mingled with the natives and ate the local lotus grown on the land*. Soon, everything went fuzzy as the men became intoxicated and fell asleep. The lotus flowers had narcotic properties and the men became addicted to the euphoria. They wanted to stay and eat lotus for the rest of their lives and refused to go home. Desperately, Odysseus eventually managed to get them on board and sailed quickly.
*The Greek word lôtos can refer to several different plants so there is conjecture as to which lotus is referred to in the Odyssey. Nymphaea caerulea, is known as the blue lotus and familiar to Greeks and is known to have soporific properties.
They were lost and finally came upon land. The land by all accounts was Sicily, home of the Cyclopes. There are genealogical ties with Aetna and Hephaestus the smithy God who gave mortals metallurgy, all tying in with the volcanic activity on the island. Some of the crew were 'eaten raw' by the cyclops Polyphemus (son of Poseidon) who blocked their exit with a huge rock. Odysseus and his remaining men eventually escaped when tricking Polyphemus into drinking wine and falling asleep.
Could it be that Odysseus and his men were ashore when the constantly active volcano blew a stack. It is certainly possible. Naturally, Polyphemus - supposedly blinded by Odysseus - called upon Poseidon to avenge him which explained the resultant storm and unfavourable winds. Homer jazzes it up a bit more but you get the picture. From here they sail on and you can find any number of maps plotting the route taken. All that is agreed upon is they fall foul of the Laestrygonians from Telepylos.
Accounts of the location of Telepylos include the southern tip of Greece, the south eastern tip of Sicily, the west coast of Italy, and the more likely Sardinia. The Laestrygonians were a tribe of cannibals of rather large stature, but they have no relevance here so I won't argue semantics..The upshot was Odysseus lost 11 of the fleet of 12 ships, only his escaped being smashed to pieces by rocks as he had anchored it outside the harbour.
Rough Map of the Odyssey
The next stop for Odysseus is perhaps a little more significant when he lands on the island of Circe. Circe was a powerful sorceress, exiled to an island off the west coast of Italy somewhere south of Elba. Later accounts by Roman authors have her situated on the Italian mainland near Rome. The geography isn't really relevant, Circe herself is of most interest. She was purportedly exiled from Colchis and her brother was Aeetes - keeper of the Golden Fleece - and aunt of the Minotaur.
Once again this appears to play havoc with accepted chronology and geography. The plot thickens when other sources have Aeetes originating in Corinth before his move to Colchis and it at least makes Circe's Italian exile more plausible. I contend that historians do not fully understand what went on between the Mycenaeans and the Minoans / Dorians. [This is explained in Part 3]
The journey continued with more mishaps Odysseus attributes to upsetting various Gods. In effect they had a lot of bad weather and bad luck before Zeus sunk the ship with a thunderbolt aka the ship was struck by lightning. The ship was south of Sicily at the time and only Odysseus survived. He was washed up on the small island of Gozo, just north of Malta (Ogygia), and was held captive by Calypso for seven years. The likelihood is he was simply a castaway on the island.
Eventually he accumulated enough driftwood to make a raft. He left Gozo and after many days another storm saw him washed up in Scheria (Corfu), land of the Phaeacians. References of these people suggested they were of Minoan descent.
Meanwhile back home on Ithaca, Telemachus, the son of Odysseus had just become a man and set out in search of his long lost father. His mother, Penelope, had problems keeping control as many assumed Odysseus would never return. Telemachus went to Sparta to meet Menelaus and ask for any news of his father. Menelaus knew nothing and Telemachus returned to Ithaca. Back with Odysseus and the Phaeacian king, Alcinous, broke down in tears when Odysseus revealed his true identity and his epic struggle to reach Ithaca. After listening to his ordeal the Phaeacian king gave him a fast ship and provisions.
Finally Odysseus returned home to Ithaca and his wife and son. There was naturally revenge taken against those who made life difficult for Penelope before Odysseus faded into obscurity after handing his kingdom to son Telemachus.