Sunday 29 June 2014

A Dubious Mentor

On one of the discussion groups I'm a member of, someone posted 'Mentor comes from the Greek word Meno's meaning intention purpose and force. Sounds like something everyone should have.'

Somewhere at the back of my mind a small doubt emerged, and I did a little digging. Along with all my other endearing qualities, I have a pedantic instinct, particularly with regard to language, and the claims trainers make...

A modicum of research both confirmed and allayed my doubts.

The modern usage of mentor probably dates from Fénelon's 1699 novel Les Aventures de Télémaque, which takes up a character (called Mentor) from Homer's Odyssey - who was (in both cases) a trusted advisor. Homer may have based the name on mentos (not meno's), but that is not certain. But Mentor's role in Homer and particularly in Fénelon is very analagous to our modern understanding of the role of mentor. 

It gets more complicated, though. In Homer, Athena disguises herself as Mentor, and advises Telemachus under a false identity.  So we have the first example of someone pretending to be a mentor, who has a hidden agenda.

Not, perhaps, the role model for modern mentoring: but it does seem to be where the term comes from.

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