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Dr. Edward Schmoll

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of brief, occasional essays on the classical and mythical origins of ordinary English words. The word "mentor," usually defined as a guide, counselor, or giver of sage advice has its origin in Homer's epic tale The Odyssey.


The first five books of The Odyssey are called ''The Telemachia," or "All about Telemachus," the young son of Odysseus. When we first encounter him, he is little more than a twenty-year old nursling who serves as consolation for his other, Penelope, and is the subject of scorn and derision for the 108 suitors who relentlessly press their claim to marry this supposed relict. The problem with Telemachus is that he has no father resent to instruct him in the ways of manhood. The storm-tossed Odysseus is currently adrift in a world of witches and monsters. 

While Telemachus finds himself without a parental model for emulation and deterrence, 
he is not without resource or support. In book II, he summons the Greeks to an assembly wherein e speaks his mind to the rapacious suitors and divulges his immediate plans to go in search of word of his father. At this point, Mentor, an old friend of Odysseus, who has been entrusted to keep II things at the estate safe and sound, rises to praise God-like Odysseus who ruled his people with a father's loving care. He also sternly reproves the suitors for their outrageous behavior. At the very least, from Mentor's words Telemachus gets an inkling of what sort of man he father was and learns in part what sort of honorable and upright behavior is expected of himself. 

Prior to his departure, Telemachus addresses the goddess Athene, who appears to the boy disguised as Mentor. Among other things, she says:

     Few sons indeed are like their fathers. Generally they are worse, but just a few are better.

     And since you are by no means lacking in Odysseus' resourcefulness, and since you will be

     no fool or coward in the future, you can hope to succeed in this undertaking. [Bk. II, 276-


Further, Telemachus learns that a crew has been conscripted for his ship and the craft itself has been fully provisioned. Thus, with this sort of "mentoring," Telemachus, newly encouraged and resolute, is prepared to undertake his first act of maturity: to go in search of news of his father. It simply took a mentor to speed him on his way.


Despite its ancient pedigree, mentoring continues to be an invaluable, if informal, educational institution. Here at Concordia, students often avail themselves of the wisdom and experience of heir faculty members, who guide them through the labyrinthine ways of undergraduate education. 

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