Odysseus, king of Ithaca, went to fight in the Trojan War, leaving his wife Penelope and his infant son Telemachus at home. He appointed his old friend Mentor as guardian to his son and the royal household. Mentor's job was to protect and help Telemachus learn everything there was to know about living life.
Alas, Odysseus put his trust in the wrong man. Rather than serve as a protector, Mentor oversaw utter havoc, allowing Odysseus' household to sink into ruin. Telemachus would end up insecure, indecisive, and uncertain of his ability to claim his birthright.
Luckily for Odysseus, the gods liked to interfere in the lives of mere mortals, and the goddess of wisdom, Athena, interceded. She appeared to young Telemachus in some guises, including the human form of Mentor, to offer him advice and encouragement. Athena raises his self-esteem, behaves as a role model, advocates and acts on his behalf, and urges him to develop autonomy. So, it wasn't Mentor who guided Telemachus; it was the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena.
The modern version of the Homeric epic poem presents powerful images of mentors as saintly, self-sacrificing, and almost super-human in their power to transform their mentees. Homerus, however, portrays Mentor as an old fool and a public laughingstock.
Substantial rewriting of the original myth of Athene's role as Mentor has lent meaning to our modern word 'mentor'. François Fénelon, the tutor of Louis XIVs grandson, constructed the mentor archetype in his book 'The adventures of Telemachus, son of Ulisses'. This 18th-century international bestseller recounts the travels of Telemachus and his tutor, Mentor, who is the true hero of the novel with its message of world peace, simplicity, and the brotherhood of man. Flattery in royal circles would lead to tutors being called mentors. The term 'mentor' became common in the decades following this book, and that's the REAL origin of the word mentor.
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