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In Greek mythology, Mentor (sometimes Mentês) was the son of Alcumus and, in his old age, a friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus left for the Trojan War he placed Mentor in charge of his son, Telemachus, and of his palace. When Athena visited Telemachus she took the disguise of Mentor to hide herself from Telemachus' mother's suitors. (See Odyssey II, 255; 267.)

Greek Mythology

Telemachus and Mentor

The first recorded modern usage of the term can be traced to a book entitled "Les Adventures de Telemaque", by the French writer Francois Fenelon [1]. In the book the lead character is that of Mentor. This book was published in 1699 and was very popular during the 18th century and the modern application of the term can be traced to this publication [1].

This is the source of the modern use of the word mentor: a trusted friend, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person. Some professions have "mentoring programs" in which newcomers are paired with more experienced people in order to obtain good examples and advice as they advance, and schools sometimes have mentoring programs for new students or students who are having difficulties.

Today mentors provide their expertise to less experienced individuals in order to help them advance their careers, enhance their education, and build their networks. Many of the world's most successful people have benefited from having a mentor including:

  • business people - Freddie Laker mentored Richard Branson
  • politicians - Aristotle mentored Alexander the Great
  • actors - Mel Gibson mentored Heath Ledger
  • athletes - Eddy Merckx (five-time Tour de France winner) mentored Lance Armstrong (seven-time Tour de France winner).

The student of a mentor is called a protégé or mentee.

Greek Mythology

Athena transformed into Mentor and Telemachus, John Flaxman


Mentor is also the name of two different leaders in the Trojan War:

Historically, Mentor of Rhodes was a Greek mercenary who at various times fought either for or against Artaxerxes III.

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  1. Roberts, Andy. (1999) "The origins of the term mentor.", History of Education Society Bulletin, no 64, Nov 1999, p313-329.


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