Where does the word “mentor” come from and What does mentor mean?

When Odysseus left Ithaca to participate in the siege and capture of Troy, according to Homer’s Odyssey, he entrusted the care of his wife, Penelope, and his infant son, Telemachus, to his great friend, Mentor.

Homer does not develop the character of the loyal friend to any extent, but twenty years later the young Telemachus, we are told, started out to try to find his father, accompanied, as he thought, by his old tutor.

Actually, however, the form of Mentor had been assumed by Athena, goddess of wisdom, who gave the young man the benefit of her counsel and advice. The story was taken by the French author, Fenelon, archbishop of Cambrai, as the basis for the political novel, Telemaque, which he published in 1699.

In this he assigns the role of adviser and counselor of the young hero entirely to the aged tutor, Mentor, and makes him second only in importance to the chief character.

The book received great acclaim. Voltaire called it “a Greek poem in French prose.”

From the wisdom and counsel displayed by this fictional companion, mentor became one of our common words for any person who serves as a counselor to another.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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