“Kind Like a Father”: On Mentors and Kings in the Odyssey

Stamatia Dova

To a true mentor

Both psychology and common experience consider mentorship a process pivotal for the development and character formation of a young person. [1] Mentor and mentee are supposed to gravitate towards each other based on compatibility and social convention, forging a bond that resembles the one between parent and child. [2] In many ways, a mentor is a subsititute parent, a figure designed to introduce a less experienced or younger individual into the world of professional competence or adulthood. The substitution of Mentor for Odysseus, however, presents us with several problems. In the Odyssey it is made clear that the choice of Mentor is entirely governed by Odysseus, who makes the decision when Telemachus is still an infant. Early in the poem we are informed that Odysseus had chosen one of his friends to be the overseer of his family and property. The handover of the household took place at the time of Odysseus’ departure:

ἤτοι ὅ γ’ ὣς εἰπὼν κατ’ ἂρ’ ἕζετο, τοῖσι δ’ ἀνέστη
Μέντωρ, ὅς ῥ’ Ὀδυσῆος ἀμύμονος ἦεν ἑταῖρος,
καί οἱ ἰὼν ἐν νηυσὶν ἐπέτρεπεν οἶκον ἅπαντα,
πείθεσθαί τε γέροντι καὶ ἔμπεδα πάντα φυλάσσειν· [3]

Od. 2.224-27
So he [Telemachus] spoke and sat down; next Mentor rose to speak, a comrade-in-arms of noble Odysseus. To him the king had committed his entire household, when he sailed off to Troy; he had ordered everyone to obey the old man, trusting that he would keep all things steadfast and undisturbed.
Mentor makes his debut in the Odyssey at a moment of crisis. He addresses the assembly in support of Telemachus’ appeal to the Ithacans to curb the excesses of the suitors. It is interesting to look at this passage more closely in light of the information it provides about the role of a mentor and the implied criteria for choosing one. [4] First of all, Mentor is introduced as a hetaíros (ἑταῖρος, 225) of Odysseus, a man with whom Odysseus has served in armed combat at some point. [5] We do not know what prevented him from following Odysseus to Troy; was it perhaps his advanced age, especially given the fact that Mentor is referred to as géron (γέρων ‘old man,’ 227) at the beginning of the Odyssey? [6] However, in Od. 22.209, Odysseus himself appeals to Mentor for help on account of their equal age (ὁμηλικίη). [7] We may attribute this difference in representation to the simple fact that, as characters, Odysseus and Mentor are of different epic weight: while the former embodies the prudent action expected of a man in his acme, the latter has given in to notions of decline and invalidity concomitant with advanced age. The reason for this incongruity, I argue, is purely characterization – namely, the need to promote Odysseus as the epitome of youth combined with maturity, the symbol of that which is old (customs, mode of government, political ideology) but dynamic and capable of reinventing itself in phoenix-like fashion. Mentor, on the other hand, symbolizes the limitations of a static age that has gradually relinquished its ability to become new again. Further, like a true support character, Mentor is dealt the lesser role of having to face the arrogance of the suitors and the indifference of his fellow Ithacans as part of a dramatic crescendo that culminates in Odysseus’ return and revenge. Friends and enemies alike acknowledge Mentor’s loyalty to Odysseus; as we see in Od. 2.253-54, Leocritus, the arrogant suitor, dismisses the assembly, eagerly delegating the task of assisting Telemachus to Mentor and Alitherses. [8] Finally, Odysseus himself acknowledges their friendship in Od. 22.208-9:

“Μέντορ, ἄμυνον ἀρήν, μνῆσαι δ’ ἐτάροιο φίλοιο,
ὅς σ’ ἀγαθὰ ῥέζεσκον· ὁμηλικίη δέ μοί ἐσσι.”

Od .22.208-9
“Mentor, rescue us from certain destruction; remember your old comrade, and all
the good I did to you! We grew up together!”
This is the first time Odysseus meets Mentor after his return to Ithaca. As is often the case, Mentor here is Athena in disguise. Mentor is mentioned nineteen times and makes ten appearances in the Odyssey; out of the nineteen times that his name is mentioned or he is addressed by name, only six apply to Mentor himself (2.225, 243, 253, 4.655, 17.68, 24.456). Further, Mentor appears in propria persona only once, in the assembly scene in Od.2.224-56 (Heubeck et al. 2008:145). The rest of the references to him occur in contexts where the external audience is aware of his double identity (2.268, 401, 3.22, 240, 4.654, 22.206, 208, 213, 235, 249, 24.446, 503, 548), while the internal audience is not. There are three notable exceptions to this: Noëmon in 4.654, who suspects that something is amiss when he sees Mentor in Ithaca while he is supposed to be traveling with Telemachus; Odysseus in 22.206-8; and the herald Medon in 24.446, who reminds the people of Ithaca (and especially the relatives of the suitors, led by Antinous’ father) that Odysseus’ actions were not unsupported by the gods. Both Noëmon and Medon claim to have witnessed some sort of epiphany, clearly identifying Mentor as the vehicle of divine assistance to Odysseus.
In Od. 22.205-6, Athena appears as Mentor to Odysseus, who is instinctively aware of this fact, despite his perfectly natural reaction (210). He expresses jubilant surprise (207), as if his old friend Mentor had appeared all of a sudden to tip the scales in this unfair battle against the suitors. He even mentions a former benefaction of his to Mentor, thus providing him with a perfect motive for cháris (χάρις, ‘reciprocal favor’). Although Odysseus knows he is addressing Athena, the leader of armies (λαοσσόον, 210), he still appeals to Mentor’s sense of “mateship,” a bond very likely based on the childhood and young adulthood they shared. The suitors, however, not only fail to detect Athena’s divine presence, but also proceed to commit despicable hubris, threatening Mentor with death and loss of property should he dare to fight on Odysseus’ side (213-23). Agelaus, the suitor who addresses Mentor on behalf of the entire group, predicts the same dreadful fate for both Odysseus and Mentor: the suitors will kill them along with Telemachus, seize their property, and divide it amongst themselves, denying Mentor’s sons access to the family estate and his wife and daughters the right to live in the community (216-23). [9] Paradigmatic of their immorality and criminal intent to annihilate Odysseus’ household, this plan also exemplifies their utter confusion as to the boundaries between the private and the public, the notions of oíkos (‘household’) and démos (‘citizenry’). [10] The actions of the suitors in the Odyssey are based on their erroneous assumption that they can invade and loot another man’s property (and the king’s, at that) under the pretext of nobility and thanks to public tolerance. Their shallow political conscience rivals their deficient perception of reality, as they systematically sabotage the social structures on which they depend, sinking deeper and deeper into irreversible wrongdoing.
The suitors’ readiness to stop at nothing infuriates Athena, who, still in the guise of Mentor, addresses Odysseus with a speech that the great Ithacan would call “θυμοδακής” (thumodakés, ‘heart-biting,’ Od. 8.185). [11] A hapax in the Odyssey, this adjective encapsulates Odysseus’ potential for competitive spirit and unending resilience, and also grants us the right to a brief digression. [12] We are transferred back to Scherie, at the moment when Laodamas and Euryalus invite Odysseus to participate in the athletic contests that they are organizing. Before issuing his invitation, Laodamas engages in a cursory assessment of the mysterious guest’s appearance and athletic prowess:

“δεῦτε, φίλοι, τὸν ξεῖνον ἐρώμεθα, εἴ τιν’ ἄεθλον
οἶδέ τε καὶ δεδάηκε. φυήν γε μὲν οὐ κακός ἐστι,
μηρούς τε κνήμας τε καὶ ἄμφω χεῖρας ὕπερθεν
αὐχένα τε στιβαρὸν μέγα τε σθένος· οὐδέ τι ἥβης
δεύεται, ἀλλὰ κακοῖσι συνέρρηκται πολέεσσιν.
οὐ γὰρ ἔγωγέ τι φημὶ κακώτερον ἄλλο θαλάσσης
ἄνδρα γε συγχεῦαι, εἰ καὶ μάλα καρτερὸς εἴη.”

Od. 8.133-39
“Come, my friends, let’s ask our guest if he knows any sport and has been well
versed in it. His appearance is not mediocre, strong and muscular as he is in his
thighs and legs, in both his hands and in his powerful, massive neck! He is not past
his prime either, only beaten down by too much hardship. For, I truly think, there is
nothing worse than the sea to break down even the strongest man alive.”
After commenting on Odysseus’ overall fitness, the two Phaeacian youths agree that he would be a fitting competitor at the games. At Euryalus’ recommendation, Laodamas addresses his father’s guest and asks him to join them (145-51). Yet Odysseys, faced with two men younger and (in this context) nobler than himself, politely declines the offer under the pretext of weariness and sorrow (153-57). It is only after Euryalus’ disparaging comments about Odysseus’ athletic ability or lack thereof that our hero is jolted back into action, seizing a huge discus and hurling it further than anyone else. [13] Not surprisingly, Athena is present at the scene in the guise of a man (and in the temporary capacity of a discus competition official) to document his triumph (186-98). To my eyes, this scene also constitutes an invaluable resource for Odysseus’ overall characterization: in addition to the fact that his claim to youthful vigor is validated by some tough competitors, whose profile, I might add, is a benign version of the suitors, Odysseus is proven victorious and capable of reawakening his fighting spirit at will and for the sake of honor, as a young man would do. [14] His response to Euryalus, in both word and deed (166-185), may be seen as a prodromic reenactment of the obliteration of the suitors, who, however, engage in far more inappropriate behavior and suffer far worse consequences. [15]
Returning to the actual fight against the suitors in Odyssey 22, we cannot help noticing the poetic architecture supporting Mentor’s stern disapproval of Odysseus’ momentary loss of fighting spirit. [16] At this moment of crisis, Mentor-Athena hurries to instill ménos (‘fighting spirit’) into Odysseus by means of a passionate speech whose delivery takes place in the middle of bloodshed. Confronting Odysseus with his Iliadic image, (s)he does not hesitate to offer the paradigm of the latter’s heroism as a reciprocal gesture of gratitude for past benefactions:

“οὐκέτι σοί γ’, Ὀδυσεῦ, μένος ἔμπεδον οὐδέ τις ἀλκή,
οἵη ὅτ’ ἀμφ’ Ἑλένῃ λευκωλένῳ εὐπατερείῃ
εἰνάετες Τρώεσσιν ἐμάρναο νωλεμὲς αἰεί,
πολλοὺς δ’ ἄνδρας ἔπεφνες ἐν αἰνῇ δηιοτῆτι,
σῇ δ’ ἥλω βουλῇ Πριάμου πόλις εὐρυάγυια.
πῶς δὴ νῦν, ὅτε σόν γε δόμον καὶ κτήμαθ’ ἱκάνεις,
ἄντα μνηστήρων ὀλοφύρεαι ἄλκιμος εἶναι;
ἀλλ’ ἄγε δεῦρο, πέπον, παρ’ ἔμ’ ἵστασο καὶ ἴδε ἔργον,
ὄφρ’ εἰδῇς, οἷός τοι ἐν ἀνδράσσι δυσμενέεσσι
Μέντωρ Ἀλκιμίδης εὐεργεσίας ἀποτίνειν.”

Od. 22.226-35
“Odysseus, you have no strength nor bravery like the time when, for nine years you
ceaselessly fought against the Trojans for fair-armed Helen, a noble sire’s daughter! You
killed many men in dreaful battle and the wide-wayed city of Priam was taken thanks to
your counsel. Now that you came back to your house and property, how can you cry over
your lost might when faced with the suitors? But come here, old friend, and stand by me!
Now you will see how Mentor, the son of Alcimus, punishes your enemies and pays back
your kindness!”
Mentor’s transformation from the géron of Od. 2.227 to the leader of the fight against the suitors in Od.22.226-35 is more complex than Athena’s mere intervention. The economy of the poem incorporates this metamorphosis into the list of Odysseus’ profiling priorities: the hero’s power to reinstate good and uproot evil breathes new strength into his disheartened and marginalized friend. This fact, I argue, does not contradict Athena’s ownership of the character of Mentor. In this scene, Mentor’s bravery, reactivated by the memory of Odysseus’ kindness, articulates the universal recycling of cháris on which Homeric society is based. [17] It is Odysseus’ charisma and magnanimity that secure him the cooperation and support of his old friend Mentor. And of course the poet, like a true god-narrator, does not fail to remind us that all this happens through Athena, in her capacity as Odysseus’ mentor. Her agency has already set in motion multiple mechanisms of plot-promoting encounters throughout the poem, and Mentor’s mobilization towards the successful completion of Odysseus’ nóstos is no surprise. It is exceptional, however, in that Mentor signifies an intuitive synergy between mentor and mentee, as his selection seals the spontaneous accord between Athena and Odysseus. This selection, as we are informed early on in the Odyssey, occurs as a result of the deep trust built between the two men during their parallel journeys in life; on account of the same comradeship, Odysseus entrusted his entire household to him (οἶκον ἅπαντα, 2.226) with the express wish that everyone in the oikos should obey him and with the expectation that he, in return, would keep everything securely in place. [18]
Going back to Mentor’s brief introduction as speaker at the assembly, the categories of gender, age, and rank emerge as defining characteristics of the ideal mentor. An older citizen of Ithaca and former comrade-in-arms of Odysseus, Mentor is the epitome of elder wisdom seasoned by life experience; further, his relationship with Odysseus is based on mutual respect and trust earned in the male network of military performance. We may well assume that his social status is similar to Odysseus’ and that his character is as amúmon (ἀμύμων, ‘noble,’ 2.225) as he is. Therefore, Mentor is a father figure, a miniature Odysseus placed in the household by Odysseus himself as a substitute overseer and, possibly, a reminder of his anticipated nóstos. He has the right to request obedience from all the members of the oikos and the obligation to preserve it.
Yet he doesn’t. As a matter of fact, Odysseus’ oikos is gravely suffering at the beginning of the Odyssey. From all the evils that have befallen it, lack of a father figure seems to be the worse; it is because of this organic deficiency that the very existence of the household is at great risk. Mentor, we may deduce, has failed miserably in his assignment and, as a result, the state of affairs in the house of Odysseus reached a dangerous low. How responsible, however, is Mentor for the situation in Odysseus’ house?
The fundamental unit in Ithaca’s agrarian society is the oikos, the household with all its assets that constitute the family’s social territory and source of status. In a society with limited civic life and political institutions, the responsibility for the financial preservation and legal protection of the oikos falls on the head of the household. [19] In his absence, even in the case of king Odysseus, his fellow citizens are under no obligation to act on his behalf by addressing any acts of wrongdoing or trespassing against it. Concerning Odysseus’ household, the situation is further exacerbated by the combined inability of Telemachus and Laertes to do anything about the suitors. Their ineptitude is not inherent but circumstantial, the result of an assignment that is both age-inappropriate and out-of-character. It is age-inappropriate in the sense that the defense and management of Odysseus’ oíkos is a task for a man in his acme, a stage in life with which neither Laertes nor Telemachus can even remotely be associated. Further, neither of the two characters is designed to replace Odysseus in Ithaca (or in the Odyssey) during his absence – they are rather meant to be placeholders until his rightful restoration to his palace and family line. [20]
It can be said that there is a certain “ageism” in the Odyssey, quietly discriminating against two out of the three Aristotelian age groups: the young and the elderly. In the Rhetoric, Aristotle bases his discourse on each group’s ability to achieve and uphold the perfect balance between the past and the future; he uses decisive brush strokes to paint rather negative portraits of the young and the elderly, whom he considers to represent polar opposites (1389a3-1390a23). Defining their characteristics on the basis of life experience, Aristotle pronounces the young impetuous, trusting, guileless, and brave (1389a3-b12), as opposed to the elderly, whom he describes as overcautious, mistrustful, ill-disposed, and cowardly (1389b13-1390a23). His search for the golden mean of age groups concludes with the characterization of those who have reached their acme (Οἱ δ’ ἀκμάζοντες φανερὸν ὅτι μεταξὺ τούτων τὸ ἦθος ἔσονται ἑκατέρων, ‘it is evident that those in their prime will constitute the mean between the other two age groups,’1390a28-29); in his eyes, they personify the successful integration of cautiousness and action, suspicion and trust, prudence and bravery. Their attitude bespeaks their ability to evenly oscillate between knowledge accumulated in the past and vision inspired by the future. It is not difficult to see that Aristotle expresses a clear preference for middle age, declaring its representatives bravely prudent and prudently brave (καὶ σώφρονες μετ’ ἀνδρείας καὶ ἀνδρεῖοι μετὰ σωφροσύνης, 1390b3-4).
Like Aristotle’s Rhetoric, the Odyssey seeks a figure whose experience and prospects are of equal social (and narrative) weight. Interestingly, the attributes of middle age glorified by Aristotle also remind us of the absent king of Ithaca. A man of both intellect and action, king Odysseus commands impressive life experience as well as interminable powers of determination. Throughout the Odyssey he exhibits an astonishing stability in his pursuit of personal fulfillment despite the multitude of taxing setbacks that he encounters, some of them self-inflicted. The amalgam of youthful strength and elder wisdom, his perseverance towards his nóstos becomes the catalyst in his journey of self-discovery; this journey also starts in Troy and ends in Ithaca, bringing the hero home in a twofold manner.
While Odysseus is depicted as lamenting yet counteracting the passage of time and all its attendant woes, Mentor seems to be giving in to the challenges of his age. [21]
From his debut in the Odyssey, we are forced to include him in the circle of elderly Ithacans who, by necessity, act as mere viewers of Odysseus’ predicament. Like Aegyptius and Halitherses (Od.2.15-34, 157-76), Mentor is limited in his ability to intervene on Telemachus’ behalf. It is noteworthy that all three men are referred or addressed to as “old man” (γέρων), and thus are categorized as elders and older peers of Odysseus. [22] In addition to Halitherses’ dire warning to the suitors that the end is near (2.161-76), Mentor’s rhetoric deflects all indignation for the suitors’ abuses toward the complacent, apathetic populace of Ithaca. It is the indifference of the many, he protests, that allows the insolence of the few (2.39-41). Even though he refrains from a direct verbal attack against the suitors, Mentor inserts into his speech a significant political commentary, to which I shall return presently.
It can be said that Mentor’s reaction to Telemachus’ rhetorical duel with Eurymachus is inextricably intertwined with his obvious limitations in age and status: Mentor is an older man with no vested power to enforce unwritten law on the suitors. I use the phrase “unwritten law” here in reference to the rules of honorable behavior, which the suitors have been shamelessly violating. Echoing Polyphemus’ anti-social behavior, and ultimately failing to find their place in civil society, the choicest youths of the Ionian islands engage in deportment that disregards marriage customs and abuses hospitality. Through their aggressive claims to Penelope’s hand in marriage, and to the throne of Ithaca, the suitors also attain a dark validation of their aristocratic descent: they activate the recessive powers of antagonism against authority that their nobility entails and don’t hesitate to temporarily destabilize the existing political structures for their own benefit.
Thus, in addition to his age, Mentor is confronted with limitations of social status: despite their numbers, the suitors, with their youthful strength and, most of all, aristocratic background, constitute a dangerous rival that should not be underestimated under any circumstances. Their power lies in their ability to peacefully alter the political status quo by declaring king Odysseus lost at sea, his wife a widow, and her hand in marriage subject to a suitors’ competition. And where, we might ask, do Telemachus and Mentor fit in this picture?
They belong, I believe, to the discourse on Odysseus as a political figure. Mentor appears in the Odyssey to reactivate Odysseus’ image as king of Ithaca, just when Telemachus decides to claim his patrimony. Not surprisingly, this recollection of Odysseus’ statesmanship takes place at the first public assembly held in Ithaca since his departure. The gathering is initiated by Telemachus himself, who, in response to Antinous’ unflattering views of Penelope’s δόλος (‘guile,’ 2.93) and Eurymachus’ insistence that she be sent back to her father (195), is forced to come up with a plan concerning the family’s future. The plan was first suggested to Telemachus by Athena in the guise of Mentes (Od.1.287-92), and followed by the admonition to kill the suitors in imitation of Orestes’ brave defense of his father’s memory (1.293-305). [23] Telemachus, of course, does not communicate to the assembly his full (and still shaky) strategy; he does, however, challenge the suitors to leave his house (2.138-40), appealing to Zeus and the other gods to pay them back should they choose to continue their abuses (2.141-45). The prince also highlights his moral responsibility toward his mother, whom he cannot ask to leave their house (2.130-33); fearing both divine retribution and public outcry for filial impiety (2.134-37), he decides to inquire about his father’s whereabouts first (2.214-17). Thus, the mother retains her auxiliary role in his coming of age, while the father takes center stage. In his absence, token figures, conveniently (re)invented by Athena, coordinate the narrative of continuity in the family’s greatness. On the eve of the reactivation of Odysseus’ nóstos, two mental preceptors, Mentes and Mentor, supply Telemachus with thought-provoking options as to his conduct. Ranging from a sea voyage to multiple homicides, the avenues suggested to him make his projected journey to adulthood even more arduous. [24] This rough awakening is followed by the encounters with Nestor, Helen, and Menelaus, who in remarkable unison acknowledge his nobility and resemblance to Odysseus (3.123-25, 4.141-46, 4.148-50, 611 respectively). On all of the above occasions, the prince exhibits remarkable appropriateness of deportment and judgment, thus validating his technical status as Odysseus’ natural and legal heir. [25] His inheritance includes the kingship of Ithaca, which his father exercised with equanimity and justice to the benefit of his (later proven) unworthy people. Mentor places as much emphasis as possible on Odysseus’ kindness as a ruler; his personal recollection of his comrade’s rule enhances Mentor’s authenticity as a character, while providing Telemachus with a confirmation of his father’s legacy. The prince, however, does not seem to be ignorant of it: on the contrary, he uses the same phrase himself at the opening of the assembly (2.47). Lamenting the absence of his father, he proceeds to explain its troubling consequences, namely the infestation of his house by arrogant suitors, the sons of the best of the Ithacans (2.51). Telemachus’ precarious predicament is aggravated by his inability to rid Odysseus’ oíkos of the suitors on his own, as well as by his unrealistic expectation that the citizenry of Ithaca will help him in return for his father’s service to the Achaeans (2.58-62, 70-74). The closure to his speech turns out to be spectacularly unsuccessful, as he tearfully throws the scepter on the ground, raising the (internal and external) audience’s pity (2.80-81). [26] Nevertheless, by the time Leocritus adjourns the meeting (2.257), any and all feelings of sympathy from the members of the audience seem to have evaporated with the exception of Mentor and Halitherses, who, in due time, will remind the vengeful relatives of the deceased suitors of the warnings issued to their arrogant sons in this gathering (24.454-62). It is noteworthy that the prince’s debut at the assembly is bracketed by the opening and closing speeches of Aegyptius and Mentor. The former is the father of Antiphus, Odysseus’ comrade who perished at the hands of Polyphemus (2.19, 17.68), and of Eurynomus, who associated with the suitors (2.22, 22.242); the latter is the man who lends Athena his identity as Odysseus’ friend and Telemachus’ quasi-guardian throughout the Odyssey.
It is also noteworthy that the poem does not introduce Mentor as Athena in disguise. [27] To the contrary, Mentor is assigned his attributes of gender, age, and class before addressing the assembly; his uncontestable loyalty to Odysseus earns him the privilege of delivering a fiery speech scolding the apathy and indifference of his fellow Ithacans in the face of the suitors’ offenses against Odysseus’ oikos. [28] His main argument is to remind his audience of Odysseus’ benevolent exercise of royal power and to express indignation at their unwillingness to curb the suitors’ arrogance. [29] Mentor’s frustration with the démos of Ithaca is artfully articulated through a negative command and a causal clause introduced with ὡς:

μή τις ἔτι πρόφρων ἀγανὸς καὶ ἤπιος ἔστω
σκηπτοῦχος βασιλεύς, μηδὲ φρεσὶν αἴσιμα εἰδώς,
ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ χαλεπός τ’ εἴη καὶ αἴσυλα ῥέζοι,
ὡς οὔ τις μέμνηται Ὀδυσσῆος θείοιο
λαῶν, οἷσιν ἄνασσε, πατὴρ δ’ ὣς ἤπιος ἦεν.

Od. 2.224-27
Let no sceptered king be benevolent and gentle, open-hearted and righteous, but let
him always be harsh, cruel, and unjust. Not one of the people whom he once ruled
remembers now godlike Odysseus, so kind a king, like a father to his children!
The key phrase here is πατὴρ δ’ ὣς ἤπιος (‘kind like a father’) as it not only superimposes a father-son model to the civic obligations of the audience but also encapsulates Odysseus’ manner of ruling. Odysseus’ private and public personae converge in his role as a father. In Mentor’s words, he is benevolent and gentle, just and kind, like a father to his children. The simile is an age-old one, aimed at assigning paternal authority to a form of government conceived and fostered by patriarchy. In the Odyssey, however, the comparison between the king and the father carries the additional weight of Odysseus’ absence. The statement that a king who was kind to his people like a father to his children is now forgotten, places the simile on a different emotional map. Lacking a more effective strategy, Mentor appeals to the Ithacan assembly to restrain the suitors in return for Odysseus’ past kindness as a king. His use of the negative command “let no king be” functions also as a threat (2.230-31), especially in the context of his explicit warning that kings should not be cheerful, pleasant, and mild, but mean, harsh, and ill-intentioned. [30] Thus, the speaker employs negative psychology in his effort to remind the people of Ithaca of their debt to Odysseus and to highlight the injustice they committed by failing to safeguard his oíkos; surprisingly, he spares the suitors a direct attack except for the forecast that their wickedness will soon bring forth their doom:

ἀλλ’ ἤτοι μνηστῆρας ἀγήνορας οὔ τι μεγαίρω
ἔρδειν ἔργα βίαια κακορραφίῃσι νόοιο·
σφὰς γὰρ παρθέμενοι κεφαλὰς κατέδουσι βιαίως
οἶκον Ὀδυσσῆος, τὸν δ’ οὐκέτι φασὶ νέεσθαι.

Od. 2.235-38
But I do not grudge at all these arrogant suitors, contriving violent deeds in their
malicious minds; they risk their lives every moment they violently consume
Odysseus’ goods under the pretext that he will never come home.
Mentor’s discourse on the suitors evokes Zeus’ view of Aegisthus’ fate at the beginning of the Odyssey (Od.1.32-43). [31] Zeus underlines Aegisthus’ reluctance to heed the warnings of the gods, who tried in vain to dissuade him from committing adultery and murder. He attributes Aegisthus’ demise to his own wickedness (ἀτασθαλίη, 1.34) that led him to pursue deeds well above his share (ὑπὲρ μόρον, 1.34, 35). Aegisthus is classified in the same category as the suitors and the companions of Odysseus; interestingly, the term ἀτασθαλίη is used in the Odyssey of the suitors (Od. 21.146, 22.317, 22.416, 23.67, 24.458), the companions of Odysseus (1.7), mortals in general as peers of Aegisthus in foolishness (1.34), and of Odysseus himself by Eurylochus (10.437). In the last case the term is used to denote Odysseus’ responsibility for the deaths of his companions at the hands of Polyphemus (one of whom was Antiphus, Aegyptius’ son). In most of the above cases, the concept of inane wickedness as an alias for self-destruction encompasses a wide range of behaviors, including the suitors’ denial of Odysseus’ nóstos. Mentor’s speech places the suitors’ hubris in a domain diametrically opposite to heroic performance: they attempt to denigrate Odysseus’ kléos, which is primarily derived from his nóstos, as they refuse to stop squandering his resources under the pretext that he will never come back. Thus, Mentor’s political voice echoes the epic pursuit of kléos for both Odysseus and his son, a pursuit inextricably interwoven with their social status in Ithaca.
The return of the rightful ruler constitutes the uncontestable objective of the Odyssey, and a prerogative for the righteous aristocrat. His nóstos is synonymous with his reinstatement as king, husband, and father; the loss of his position in the social hierarchy of the island (and his own family line) would signify the cancellation of his nóstos, rendering his act of returning to Ithaca entirely irrelevant. This is the scenario envisioned and wished for by all his enemies, who want him lost at sea and deprived of nóstos. [32] At the end of the Odyssey, we encounter a phrase that epitomizes this undesirable predicament through the suitors’ rivalry against Odysseus: in Od.24.528-29, Odysseus and Telemachus “would have killed all of the suitors’ relatives and deprived them of nóstos,” had Athena not intervened to end the fighting (καί νύ κε δὴ πάντας ὄλεσαν καὶ ἔθηκαν ἀνόστους). Ironically, the state of άnοstos, [33] a constant but unrealized threat for Odysseus, becomes a potentiality for the suitors’ relatives and a reality for the suitors themselves – Odysseus does to them what they tried to do to him. As a deus ex machina, Athena puts an end to this cycle of violence in the best interests of her mentee, thus enabling him to experience a complete nóstos; furthermore, she brings the long-awaited for closure in the guise of Mentor (24. 548). Opening and closing the Odyssey is no small credential for a character, even a borrowed one; Mentor-Athena procures the ship for Telemachus’ trip to Pylos, coaches Telemachus through his quest for information about his father, and coordinates the truce that ends the fighting between Odysseus and the families of the suitors, just as any loyal friend of Odysseus would have done. His loyalty is flexible but unwavering and his dramatis persona solid yet malleable; while his epic versatility does not entail changes of heart or doubtful integrity, Mentor morphs into a variety of support characters depending on the protagonist’s needs. Public speaker and community elder, teacher and counselor, comrade-in-arms and mediator, Mentor concentrates in his persona the characteristics of a good king: he is therefore qualified to talk about good kings and their undeserving subjects at the assembly of Odyssey 2. This anemic gathering, confused and disjointed, may also be seen as a preliminary court hearing for the transgressions of the suitors; all guilty parties are issued a warning, including the silent townsfolk of Ithaca, who are sent home by the cruelest of the suitors (2.252-57). Nothing really happens, except for the articulation of the accusations against the suitors in a public forum. Mentor is, after all, only a shadow of a good king and so is Telemachus, who called the meeting in the first place. Therefore, only Odysseus deserves (and can truly resume) the persona of the good king, a fact accepted by all his loyal supporters without the slightest antagonism. [34] From this point of view Mentor is meant to be vulnerable and subject to failure in analogy to the entities he is affiliated with: the unsteady monarchy of Ithaca with its adolescent heir and questionable popular support, the fading memory of a kind ruler, and the challenges of his advancing years in the shaky world of Odysseus’ absence.
Unlike the suitors, Mentor keeps his faith in Odysseus’ heroic potential throughout the poem. His description of the suitors’ ἀτασθαλίη emphasizes their malevolent incredulity over Odysseus’ return (τὸν δ’ οὐκέτι φασὶ νέεσθαι, ‘they say that he will never return,’ 2.238) as well as their headlong rush to ruin. [35] With his unfailing mental vision, Mentor transmits, albeit as a thinly veiled agent, Athena’s cerebral conceptualization of Odysseus’ nóstos to Telemachus. From this point of view, the agency of Mentor remains a mere narrative technique directly related to his role of representing the traditional male-to-male mentoring relationship. Mentor’s fusion with Athena is a feature of the epic that carries out her intervention while creating a verisimilitude of characters and events according to the ideal – and ideally restorable – social order of the Odyssey. Nevertheless, as we know, the social order of the Odyssey is highly problematic, with unclear governmental procedures and an orphaned throne that does not seem to command much power. In the fluctuating politics of Ithaca, the class structure, employing as criterion the size and wealth of one’s oíkos, ostensibly tolerates the blurring of lines between king and aristocrats. Since the most important social unit is the oíkos, and its preservation the guarantee of one’s social standing, Mentor has failed in his mission to protect Odysseus’ position in the society of Ithaca. Neither has he succeeded as Telemachus’ warden, precisely because he failed to safeguard his protégé’s property. Then how can we evaluate his mentorship and why was he chosen to promote the development of the plot in the Odyssey?
As an integral part of Athena’s plan for Odysseus, Mentor’s guidance of Telemachus has to be viewed in the context of the poem’s economy. Mentor per se is immaterial, as is Nausicaa or other characters that are used to promote the development of the plot in the Odyssey; and yet, his specific profile fits certain needs of the poem that require closer examination. While acting as the spokesperson for benevolent paternalism, Mentor meets the requirements of a mentoring position congruous with patriarchy. Moreover, he poses no threat to Odysseus’ heroic profile and proves to be versatile in his transformations from youth counselor to companion-in-arms at the beginning and the end of the poem respectively. He is also a source of advice and encouragement for Telemachus and Odysseus, used by Athena as a character expedient for impersonation. In other words, he is a successful theoretical model of mentorship. I contend that he was chosen to promote the development of the plot in the Odyssey in order to prove that the social order is inherently healthy and functional. His role in the Odyssey also consists of promoting the restoration of Ithaca’s political ethos, a dangerous enterprise that seems to require both divine and human participation. [36]
In contemporary psychology, the discussion on models of mentorship often draws on the story of Mentor. In the actual discourse of professional mentoring practices in career guidance, the search for the mythical roots of mentoring acquires a new significance. The case of Mentor has puzzled psychologists who tried to find a model of mentoring based on a hierarchical, male-governed transmission of knowledge and direction in life (Johnson 2002). It soon became clear that the first Mentor could not serve as a professional prototype for the simple reason that he was governed by Athena, a maiden goddess born from her father and entrusted with the intellectual domain of both war and peace (Colley 2001). In her mentoring style, Athena combines the elements of strict professionalism and compassionate concern without being maternal. Her emotional engagement with her mentee ends with her guidance and, thanks to her divine status, she has no need of being self-sacrificial or selfless. Athena expects to be invoked, obeyed, and appreciated – and she is. She keeps her distance from her mortal protégé, while at the same time rejoices in his accomplished apprenticeship and encourages him to proceed. Most importantly, she is able to incorporate her superhuman powers and knowledge of the pre-decided order of things into her mentoring (Belmont 1969:115). As a result, her mentoring model not only breaks the mold of traditional, patriarchal mentorship but also shifts the weight of guidance towards teaching and coaching. Athena enables Odysseus and Telemachus to realize and reach their full potential (which, sometimes, simply entails calling on her to fix things), but cannot invite them to imitate her example. [37] In this context, teaching by example may seem to be a feature reserved for same-gender mentoring settings; such an attempt at emulation –to the point of reproduction– is reflected in the goal of becoming like one’s father, a theme explored in Mentor’s second appearance in the Odyssey. [38]
As Mentor reappears quickly after his speech at the assembly, it is made clear to the audience that it is Athena answering Telemachus’ prayer, uttered in a state of despair and isolation after his failed attempt to raise awareness among the Ithacans of the crimes committed by the suitors. In Od.2.270-95, Mentor-Athena, clearly at the service of Odysseus’ profile as a father, engages Telemachus in a didactic discourse centered around the themes of heritage, coming of age, and mentorship. Displaying a thorough yet indirect knowledge of the absent king’s character and ability, Athena disguised as Mentor speaks perfectly within the limits of her adopted character; further, her persuasive performance of moral support and emotional proximity to her mentee is based on references to Odysseus and Penelope that indicate indisputable familiarity with his parents (271-72, 74-75). She also elaborates on the themes of self-worth and family tradition, both in terms of patrilineage and matrilineage, echoing Mentes’ argument from Od.1 (222-23, 293-305). Mentor says exactly what is expected of him, namely that Telemachus should not feel helpless and inadequate, given the powerful legacy of his father’s eloquence and efficiency. Furthermore, the encouraging thought that he is the worthy son of worthy parents and especially of a worthy father, integrates the expectation for Telemachus’ successful trip to Pylos with the hope for Odysseus’ triumphant return to Ithaca. Mentor-Athena does not hesitate to add that, although few sons surpass their fathers, Odysseus’ métis (‘intelligence’) will guide Telemachus to success (276-77).
Similar is Mentor’s assistance to Telemachus before the meeting with Nestor, when, upon arrival in Pylos, the young man is faced with his inexperience in social life and etiquette:

“Μέντορ, πῶς τ’ ἂρ ἴω, πῶς τ’ ἂρ προσπτύξομαι αὐτόν;
οὐδέ τί πω μύθοισι πεπείρημαι πυκινοῖσιν·
αἰδὼς δ’ αὖ νέον ἄνδρα γεραίτερον ἐξερέεσθαι.”

Od. 3.22-24
“Mentor, how will I stand before the king, how will I greet him? I am not good at
sophisticated conversation; a young man like me might get nervous asking an older
man questions.”
Although the dialogue between mentor and mentee is reported in its divine and mortal dimensions, the conversation between them is typical of their assumed relationship, especially in terms of the older man coaching the younger: with his advice on how to overcome nervousness before a sophisticated conversation, an elderly interlocutor like Nestor underscores the synergy of mortal talent and divine inspiration for which Athena has been advocating all along:

“Τηλέμαχ,’ ἄλλα μὲν αὐτὸς ἐνὶ φρεσὶ σῇσι νοήσεις,
ἄλλα δὲ καὶ δαίμων ὑποθήσεται· οὐ γὰρ ὀίω
οὔ σε θεῶν ἀέκητι γενέσθαι τε τραφέμεν τε.”

Od. 3.26-28
“Telemachus, some of the words you will think of in your own mind, the rest some
divinity will inspire you to say; for I don’t think you were born and raised without
the good will of the goods.”
Nevertheless, Athena’s reply eloquently hints at her inside knowledge of the situation. By consistently portraying Telemachus as a hero destined to experience personal fulfillment, Athena keeps reminding us that a carefully conceived plan is now being implemented under her close supervision. The personal interest she takes in Telemachus’ first public appearance before Nestor indicates how important this step is for the young man’s public image and civic experience. We must also remember that the meeting with Nestor constitutes a crucial evaluation of Telemachus’ eloquence and deportment, given the fact that Nestor was not only his father’s fellow officer, but also his equal or even superior in prudence and eloquence. Although Nestor and Odysseus are not rivals in the Iliad, it is evident that they share a noble competition as public speakers, thus becoming the ultimate measure for comparison. To discuss an example of their unwitting cooperation in setting the standard in public speaking, I would like to briefly transfer us to the Nékyia. During his descent to the underworld in Odyssey 11, Odysseus employs the same standard in order to praise Neoptolemus’ ability in public speaking to Achilles’ shade:

ἤτοι ὅτ’ ἀμφὶ πόλιν Τροίην φραζοίμεθα βουλάς,
αἰεὶ πρῶτος ἔβαζε καὶ οὐχ ἡμάρτανε μύθων·
Νέστωρ δ’ ἀντίθεος καὶ ἐγὼ νικάσκομεν οἴω.

Od. 11.510-12
When we held war council around the city of Troy, he always spoke first and to the
point; only godlike Nestor and I surpassed the boy.
It can be said that Odysseus embellishes the report to Achilles with an ambiguous statement of excellence, one the one hand complimenting Achilles on his son’s performance, on the other reminding him that only himself and Nestor, the wisest Achaean, surpassed the youth’s powers of articulation. [39] Similarly, Telemachus’ encounter with Nestor constitutes a test that recreates the heroic background of the Trojan war; Odysseus is the missing, yet ever-present link, and his kléos the main preoccupation of the scene, along with the practicalities of locating him and introducing his son to his former companions-in-arms. As it happens, the introduction of the son to his father’s peers takes place in the absence of the father but in the presence of the mentor (Od.3.75-77).
An element of ancestral cult emanates from the narratives of Nestor and Menelaus about Odysseus, as Telemachus stands before each of his distinguished hosts to be measured up against his absent father. In Sparta, Helen renders a major visual service to the audience by identifying Telemachus as his father’s son without knowing who he is (Od.4.141-46). Telemachus’ comment from Od.1.214-16 on the uncertainty of his paternity is at once dismissed, along with of all its underlying insecurities. [40] Mentor does not accompany Telemachus in Sparta but is present in Od.4.653-56, in the words of Noëmon, son of Phronius, who unwittingly informs the suitors of Telemachus’ trip. [41] The narrative necessity of this accidental revelation is self-evident, as it sets in motion the suitors’ evil plan to kill Telemachus, thus providing him with a set of trials worthy of a young hero of his description. In his reply to Antinous and Eurymachus, Noëmon expresses his amazement at the peculiar occurrence of recently seeing Mentor in Ithaca even though he witnessed his departure for Pylos days before (4.655-56). Mentor, enveloped in a divine aura due to his simultaneous presence in two places, becomes, in the words of Noëmon, evidence of the gods’ involvement with Telemachus’ journey. Telemachus’ achievement is greeted with violent anger by the suitors, who acknowledge it as a major tactical success on his part. [42] Thanks to Mentor, Telemachus has now scored his first victory and is ready for an impressive showdown with the villains in his story: he is becoming a man and a hero. Furthermore, by the end of his visit to Pylos and Sparta, Telemachus has learned how to conduct himself around his distinguished superiors, as we see from his polite refusal of Menelaus’ invitation to extend his stay in Sparta (4.594-608). His articulate reply meets with a great deal of admiration from Menelaus, who enthusiastically declares it to be compelling evidence for his noble birth – Telemachus now is an orator as well (4.611).
In Od. 24.511-12, the son has found his father and himself, after both Odysseus and Telemachus have been restored to their rightful place in the male hierarchy of their family and community following an almost ritual rivalry in areté (excellence). [43] Athena is there as well, watching over the reunion between fathers and sons, a moment, we may safely infer, she had visualized long before her intermittent transformation into Mentor. In this scene, however, all three Aristotelian age groups are present and represented in a very positive light: Laertes is grateful to the gods that he lived to see the day his son and grandson would compete in bravery, Odysseus protective of the family’s good name and concerned about its preservation by his son, and Telemachus confident that he will rise to the challenge. [44] At last the endurance of patrilineage is gloriously proven thanks to a mentor who appears only lately in the story to cover the movements of a splendid goddess; and who can see a god who wants to be invisible flying here and there? [45]


Belmont, D. E. 1969. “Athena and Telemachus.” Classical Journal 65: 109-116.
Bronfenbrenner, U. 1960. “Freudian Theories of Identification and Their Derivatives.” Child Development 31:15-40.
Caspi, A., and B. W. Roberts. 2001. “Personality Development across the Life Course: The Argument for Change and Continuity.” Pschycological Inquiry 12:49-66.
Chaston, C. 2002. “Three Models of Authority in the Odyssey.” The Classical World 96:3-19.
Colley, H. 2001. “Righting Rewritings of the Myth of Mentor: A Critical Perspective on Career Guidance Mentoring.” British Journal of Guidance and Counseling 29: 177-97.
D’Arms, E. F., and Hully, K. K. 1946. “The Oresteia-Story in the Odyssey.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 77: 207-213.
De Jong, I. J. F. 2001. A Narratological Commentary on the Odyssey. Cambridge.
Dova, S. 2012. Greek Heroes in and out of Hades. Lanham, MD.
Eby, L.T, T. D. Allen, S. C. Evans, T. Ng, and D. L. Dubois. 2008. “Does mentoring matter? A multidisciplinary meta-analysis comparing mentored and non-mentored individuals.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 72: 254-67.
Falkner, T. M. 1989. “The End of the Odyssey.” In Old Age in Greek and Latin Literature (eds. T. M. Falkner and J. de Luce) 38-53. Albany.
Fénelon, F. 1699 (1995). Les Aventures de Télémaque (ed. J. Le Brun). Gallimard.
Frame, D. 2009. Hippota Nestor. Washington, DC.
Haverson, J. 1985. “Social Order in the Odyssey.” Hermes 113:129-45.
Heubeck, A., S. West, and J. B.Hainsworth. 1998. A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey I. Oxford.
Johnson, W. B. 2002. “The Intentional Mentor: Strategies and Guidelines for the Practice of Mentoring.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 33: 88-96.
Kram, K. E. 1988. Mentoring at work: Developmental relationships in organizational life. New York.
Martin, R. P. 1993. “Telemachus and the Last Hero Song.” Colby Quarterly 29 (3): 222-40.
Maxmin, J. 1995. “Resilience.” P. vii in The Ages of Homer, ed. J. B. Carter and S. P. Morris. Austin.
Nagy, G. 1999. The Best of the Achaeans. Baltimore.
Nagy, G. 2009. Homer the Preclassic, online edition. Washington, DC. https://chs.harvard.edu/wa/pageR?tn=ArticleWrapper&bdc=12&mn=3285.
Olson, S. D. 1990. “The Stories of Agamemnon in Homer’s Odyssey.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 120: 57-71.
Petropoulos, J. C. B. 2011. Kleos in a Minor Key: the Homeric Education of a Little Prince. Washington, DC.
Race, W. H. 1993. “First Appearances in the Odyssey.Transactions of the American Philological Association 23: 79-107.
Rayburn, C. A. 2010. Handbook for Women Mentors: Transcending Barriers of Stereotype, Race, and Ethnicity. Praeger.
Russo, J., M. Fernandez-Galiano, and A. Heubeck. 1992. A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey III. Oxford.
Segal, C. 1994. Singers, Heroes, and Gods in the Odyssey. Cornell.
Scodel, R. 2002. Listening to Homer: Tradition, Narrative, and Audience. Ann Arbor.
Van Thiel, H. 1991. Homeri Odyssea. Zurich.


[ back ] 1. Eby et al. 2008:260-65 and passim.
[ back ] 2. Bronfenbrenner 1960:25, Kram 1988:2, Caspi and Roberts 2001:60, Eby et al. 2008:255, Rayburn 2010:8-10.
[ back ] 3. I cite the Greek text of the Odyssey from H. van Thiel’s edition (1991).
[ back ] 4. Heubeck et al. 2008:145 consider the information provided in Od.2.226-27 “a puzzling detail,” comparing Mentor’s role here to the responsibility of the bard who was assigned by Agamemnon to protect Clytaemnestra (Od. 3.267). It is true that the description of Mentor’s duties at his first appearance in the Odyssey is in direct conflict with his previous anonymity and absence. Still, I believe that his narrative necessity is greater than the one of Agamemnon’s bard, as I shall endeavor to demonstrate. See also de Jong 2001:56-57.
[ back ] 5. On the creation of the character of Mentor based on a friend of Homer’s according to the poet’s Vita see Nagy 2009:I.92; cf. also Russo et al. 1992:258.
[ back ] 6. Therefore he was approaching middle age at the time of Odysseus’ departure for Troy; Aristotle places a man’s physical acme from his thirtieth to his thirty-fifth year of age, while his intellectual acme extends to his forty ninth year (Arist. Rh. 1390b9-11).
[ back ] 7. On the twofold character of this request, according to the mortal (Mentor) or divine (Athena) nature of the addressee, see de Jong 2001:533.
[ back ] 8. We receive the same information from Od. 17.68-69, where Antiphus is also included in the circle of Telemachus’ paternal friends, connecting Odysseus’ domestic woes with his nóstos-related losses; on the minor individual significance of these characters see Race 1993 83nn9-10, 86n20, 106n68. As a group, however, they play an important role in Telemachus’ self-definition, as they provide him with a benevolent reminder of his father’s power.
[ back ] 9. On the issues regarding the logic and phrasing of this threat see Russo et al. 1992:259.
[ back ] 10. Cf. also Nagy 1999:233, 312-13; Segal 1994:54.
[ back ] 11. This is the term that Odysseus used in Od.8.185 to describe the effect of Euryalus’ rudeness in Od. 8.159-64 on him.
[ back ] 12. Cf. also Maxmin 1995:vii.
[ back ] 13. On Odysseus’ response to Euryalus’ comments and the latter’s apology see Martin 1993:232.
[ back ] 14. Here Odysseus exhibits character traits found in Aristotle’s description of the young (Arist.Rh.1389a10-13), which I shall discuss presently: “for on account of their love for honor they [the young] cannot tolerate to be held in low esteem, but become indignant, if they consider themselves wronged. And they love victory more than they love honor; for youth desires excellence and victory is a kind of excellence.”
[ back ] 15. I agree with Heubeck et al. 2008: ad Od.8.184-85 that “[f]or the hero the challenge is an absolute imperative […]. To shirk it brings immediate reproach […].”Odysseus, it appears, has never shed his martial readiness and aristocratic ego, despite his deliberate imaging of long-suffering wanderer and shipwrecked mariner. This is also the case in his encounter with Achilles in the Nékyia, as I have argued elsewhere (Dova 2012:16-18).
[ back ] 16. On Mentor’s name as “he who instills ménos,” “he who incites,” see Frame 2009:25ff. Cf. also Belmont 1969 111.
[ back ] 17. Mentor’s motivational speech does produce results, but not immediately; after Athena flies away in the guise of a swallow (22.239-40), the six suitors attack Odysseus and his three fellow-fighters, and the battle continues until all suitors are killed except Phemius, whose life is eventually spared by Odysseus (372-74). Despite her rapid disappearance, Athena intervenes again during the fighting to direct the spears of the suitors away from Odysseus and his men (255-56, 272-73); see also Russo et al. 1992:256-57.
[ back ] 18. I agree with Heubeck et al. 2008:ad Od.2.227 that οἶκον is the subject of πείθεσθαι and Mentor the subject of φυλάσσειν.
[ back ] 19. Cf. Haverson 1985: 137-145 and passim; on the power balance in Odysseus’ household during his absence see Chaston 2002: 4-17 and passim.
[ back ] 20. On Laertes as a character emblematic of Odyssey’s discourse on old age, see Falkner 1989:38-48.
[ back ] 21. I agree with Frame’s (2009:221-24) suggestion that the name Mentor is modeled after Nestor, especially in the context of the two men’s ability to intellectually steer people towards challenging yet achievable goals with considerable success. The element of old age and its associations with wisdom, characteristic of both Mentor and Nestor, is also significant, I believe, in the poet’s selection of alias for Athena-Mentor and her role as overseer of Telemachus’ visit to Pylos. Given that Athena’s association with Nestor has been a positive one in the epic tradition, the trio Athena-Mentor-Nestor can only be a dream team of counselors for young Telemachus. As Frame argues, “Mentor for Athena is just a disguise. In her own persona she is in control of events, and Nestor, a mere mortal, does not rival her superior power” (2009:224). I would add that Nestor’s ritual acknowledgement of Athena’s presence in Od.3.373ff. bespeaks the hero’s reverent attitude toward (and healthy connection with) the goddess.
[ back ] 22. See also n.8.
[ back ] 23. On “the repeated use of Orestes” in the Odyssey see Scodel 2002 14.
[ back ] 24. As Petropoulos (2011:8) remarks, “Mentes, exactly like his Doppelgänger Mentor (in books 2 and 3) and to a degree like Peisistratos (especially in books 3 and 4), will prove to be an effective teacher and interlocutor, indeed arguably the most successful. He will be the first adult to elicit certain psychological reactions in the immature, self-doubting youth, which will bring him closer to maturity. Significantly, Mentes will accomplish this even before Telemachus sets out for the Peloponnese.”
[ back ] 25. Telemachus’ technical status as heir is determined by the fact that he is the eldest and only biological son of Odysseus; cf. also Od.117-20, where Telemachus explains to Odysseus, before their recognition, his family’s single-heir predicament for the past three generations.
[ back ] 26. Achilles also throws the scepter on the ground in Il.1.245-46; cf. also Martin 1993:235.
[ back ] 27. On Mentor’s first appearance in the Odyssey see Heubeck et al. 2008:145, Race 1993 85n18, 88n28. As Petropoulos (2011:105) observes, “[f]aute de mieux the only person who can educate the prince in the ways of κλέος is Athena in her successive capacities as ‘Mentes’ and ‘Mentor.'”
[ back ] 28. A task Telemachus undertook in 2.64-67; cf. also Petropoulos 2011:81, Heubeck et al. 2008:ad Od.2.64-66.
[ back ] 29. In Od.2.241 van Thiel prefers the reading κατερύκετε over καταπαύετε. Although the latter seems to be in agreement with the infinitive καταπαυέμεν in Leocritus’ reply in Od.2.244, the choice of κατερύκετε reflects better, I believe, the tone of Mentor’s admonition. A summary of Mentor’s warning is repeated in the words of Halitherses at the end of the Odyssey (Od.24.457), where van Thiel’s preferred reading is καταπαυέμεν.
[ back ] 30. Interestingly, Mentor’s portrayal of the successful ruler is connecting the undesirable features of a bad king with the negative character traits of the Aristotelian elderly (1389b13-1390a23).
[ back ] 31. Od.1.32-43 and 2.235-38 inevitably evoke 24.454-62; see also D’ Arms and Hully 1946:210 and Olson 1990:64.
[ back ] 32. Telemachus, tormented by this scenario, occasionally gives in to accepting it as the truth (1.219-20, 241-43); on Telemachus’ anxieties regarding the fate of his father see Petropoulos 2011:26-29.
[ back ] 33. This adjective, like its variation ἀνόστιμος (Od.4.182), is a hapax in the Odyssey. In Od.4.182 ἀνόστιμος is used by Menelaus in a sorrowful reference to Odysseus, whom, presumably, some god has deprived of nóstos.
[ back ] 34. It is no coincidence that both Telemachus and Mentor refer to Odysseus’ rule using the same phrase (2.47, 234); moreover, Athena repeats 2.230-34 in 5.8-12, when addressing the gods at the assembly. Menelaus bids farewell to Telemachus and Peisistratus, employing the same phrase (πατὴρ ὣς ἤπιος ἦεν, ‘he was kind like a father’) to describe Nestor’s kindness as a comrade in arms in 15.152.
[ back ] 35. Mentor’s rhetoric is fiercely rejected by Leocritus, who hurries to deny both the possibility of Odysseus’ return and even his survival (2.246-51), should he, after his return home, dare to go against the suitors.
[ back ] 36. Here I would like to briefly mention the work that reintroduced the character of Mentor in western literature, Les Aventures de Télémaque by François Fénelon, tutor of the Duke of Burgundy, future king of France (Fénelon 1699). In this didactic novel Mentor is Telemachus’ tutor and the political and social reformer of the corrupt city of Salentum. It is interesting that the reception of Mentor, whom at the end of the novel Fénelon reveals to be Athena in disguise, chose to focus on these two aspects (and especially the latter) of his presence in the Odyssey.
[ back ] 37. The case of Od.3.30 is interesting, where we are told that Telemachus literally follows on the goddess’s footsteps.
[ back ] 38. I agree with Martin 1993:239-40 that Telemachus fails to emulate his father, thus ending a tradition of tricksters in the family exactly as the Odyssey stands at the end of a poetic tradition.
[ back ] 39. The implication may well be that Odysseus surpassed Neoptolemus in eloquence and life experience as he had earlier surpassed Achilles himself. Here we should consider the evidence of Il.19.216-20, where Odysseus reminds Achilles that he is his senior in both years and experience; see also Dova 2012: 17, 55n.80, 56n.87.
[ back ] 40. Mentes makes a similar statement in Od.1.206-12, only to cause Telemachus’ anxiety about his relationship with his father to surface; cf. Petropoulos 2011:20.
[ back ] 41. Frame 2009:217ff. convincingly argues that the newly minted friendship between Peisistratus and Telemachus restores the balance that had been upset by the quarrel between their fathers at their departure from Troy; on Peisistratus gradually taking over from Mentor-Athena see Frame 2009:220, Race 1993:90-93.
[ back ] 42. Od. 4.660-72. Although both Telemachus and the suitors are young, their characterization in relation to age differs; while he is intimidated by the process of entering adulthood yet clearly on his way to a successful transition, they typify the extreme adolescent who fails to grow up. See also de Jong 2001:63, Falkner 1989:38-39.
[ back ] 43. Od. 24.506-15; Odysseus’ areté encompasses his success as both father and son, which further entails Laertes’ fulfillment as father and grandfather; the eldest male of the household savors the noble antagonism between his two rightful successors. It is also noteworthy that Mentor-Athena is present and encourages Laertes to pray to Athena. Cf. also Petropoulos 2011:25, de Jong 2001:586.
[ back ] 44. This constitutes also the fulfillment of the poem, namely Odysseus’ successful nóstos and his concluded image as accomplished father and son. Cf. also Martin 1993:240, Dova 2012 23-24.
[ back ] 45. Od.10.573-74.