The Atlantic

The Odyssey’s Millennia-Old Model of Mentorship

According to the classicist Gregory Nagy, Homer’s epic provides an early example of enlightened guidance that’s still relevant thousands of years later.
Source: Jose Cabezas / AFP / Getty

Homer’s The Odyssey chronicles Odysseus’s journey home in the years following the Trojan War. As he is making his way back, the goddess Athena appears to his son, Telemachus, in the form of an old family friend, Mentor, to offer him support and guidance in his father’s absence. Their interactions in The Odyssey represent one of the earliest antecedents of the word mentorship.

The challenges that Telemachus was facing—he needed to fend off the men’s series, “,” I talked to Nagy about what the story of the original Mentor reveals about understandings of personal and professional guidance even thousands of years later. The conversation that follows has been edited for length and clarity.

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