Homer: men·tor (men´tôr´, -ter) noun 1. A wise and trusted counselor or teacher. 2. Mentor. Greek Mythology. Odysseus’s trusted counselor, under whose disguise Athena became the guardian and teacher of Telemachus. History: The word mentor is an example of the  way in which the great works of literature live on without our knowing it. The word has recently gained currency in the professional world, where it is thought to be a good idea to have a mentor, a wise and trusted counselor, guiding one’s career, preferably in the upper reaches of the organization. We owe this word to the more heroic age of Homer, in whose Odyssey Mentor is the trusted friend of Odysseus left in charge of the household during Odysseus’s absence. More important for our usage of the word mentor, Athena disguised as Mentor guides Odysseus’s son Telemachus in his search for his father. Fénelon in his romance Télémaque (1699) emphasized Mentor as a character, and so it was that in French (1749) and English (1750) mentor, going back through Latin to a Greek name, became a common noun meaning “wise counselor,” first recorded in 1750. Mentor is an appropriate name for such a person because it probably meant “adviser” in Greek and comes from the Indo-European root men-1, meaning “to think.”

Definition and word history from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation. All rights reserved.