Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series # 3: The Mentor
by Leigh Holland
The word mentor is defined as “an experienced or trusted adviser”; “to advise or train someone, often someone lesser in age or experience”. The first mentor figure is found in The Odyssey, the epic tale of the nostos, the homecoming, of Odysseus. Odysseus has been away from home fighting at Troy for over ten years. Things aren’t going well in his prolonged absence, to say the least. In many ways, the tale of Odysseus’ journey is a basic blueprint for the Hero’s Journey.
Odysseus angered the gods and is having a perilous journey home, fraught with danger and delay after delay. However, this isn’t just the tale of Odysseus returning home. It’s also the story of his son Telemachus’ quest to discover who and what his father is and thereby learn who he is. Telemachus is aided in his quest by Athena, the goddess of mental prowess, of wisdom. She is the daughter of Zeus and the Titan goddess Metis, sprung fully grown from her father’s head. Her mother’s name is related to the noun Metis, meaning intelligence. Odysseus’ nickname is “polumetis”, or “intelligent in multiple ways”.
To aid Telemachus, Athena takes the form of Mentes, a father-like hero. Later, she assumes the form of another wise hero and ally called Mentor. Both names come from the word menos, which means power, or strength, and the word metis, meaning mind, intelligence. Therefore, we learn the role of the mentor is primarily the force of intelligence and wisdom that advises, trains, or aids the hero in his journey.
Note also that because a goddess speaks directly to the young hero Telemachus through the form of his Mentor, the role of the Mentor is often one of the voice of the divine speaking to the hero. On a deeper note, the mentor is our super-ego, our divine connection to all things and people, our desire to do the right thing, even if it’s not the traditionally heroic thing. The Mentor does not take up the journey himself. That is for the hero to do. The Mentor guides the hero down the path of wisdom. The mentor initiates the hero’s journey and motivates the hero.
Often, the mentor will give the hero more than training or advice. The mentor may give gifts to the hero to aid him on his journey. The hero must prove worthy of these gifts in some way. They must be earned. If the hero has doubts or begins down a wicked or foolish path, a mentor figure should intervene, acting as a conscience and planting wisdom in the hero to prevent future pitfalls of a similar nature.
For more information on the role of mentor, I recommend “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogel and “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours” by Gregory Nagy.