Book 1 begins with the fate of Odysseus after the Trojan War: having angered the god of the sea, Poseidon, he is trapped on the goddess Calypso's island. Poseidon being distracted, however, the gods hold a council in which their king Zeus gives in to his daughter Athena's plea to bring Odysseus home. With this permission, Athena disguises herself as Mentes, a Greek chieftain, and goes to Odysseus' home in Ithaca. She talks with Odysseus' young son Telemachus, who tells her that a large number of suitors, believing Odysseus to be dead, have come to woo Odysseus' wife Penelope; in doing so, they have made themselves at home and despoiled the land and flocks. She urges manliness on him and gives him instructions to send the suitors away and to prepare to sail in search of news of Odysseus. In a few brave speeches, Telemachus apprises the suitors of a council to happen the next day. They threaten him and pry into his intentions before they finally leave for the night.
The council is the focus of Book 2. Telemachus announces his plight caused by the suitors and urges that something be done. He is pitied by all except Antinous, one of the suitors, who blames everything on Penelope and declares that the suitors will remain until she chooses one of them. Then Telemachus boldly offers him a choice: go home or be slaughtered. At this tense point, two eagles fly overhead, and in an omen of death, claw at each other before flying away. Stunned, the people listen to the words of the soothsayer as he advises the suitors to beware of Odyssues' return and the destruction it will bring upon them. The suitors, headed by Eurymachus, scoff at this, and Telemachus, for his part, responds merely by announcing his quest for news and asking for the ship and crew which Athena has advised. He is backed by Mentor, a wise friend of his father, who himself is then scorned by the suitors.
In discouragement, Telemachus walks along the shore, praying to Athena. Now appearing in the guise of Mentor, she comes to him and tells him she will find ship and crew. He returns home to gather supplies and finds the suitors there engaged in their usual destruction. However, he manages, with the help of his nurse Eurycleia, to get what he needs and then swears the old servant to temporary secrecy. Meanwhile, Athena has disguised herself as Telemachus and gathered a crew. When it is dark, they gather, and, led by Telemachus and "Mentor" (Athena again), set sail for Pylos.