Guise of the Mentor

“Virtue may be recommended by examples and by instructions, by manners, and by precepts” ~  John Hawkesworth*

By definition a mentor is “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter”.  A mentor may enter our lives at any time. Some are invited in…the chosen ones selected to provide unique insight. Others pass through and are recognized only in hindsight for the valuable role they played. Some are kind, friendly, nurturing. Others are strict, focused, driven, and challenging. The role of the mentor is ageless, takes many forms, and has made an appearance in stories since ancient times.

Mentor —
In Homer’s classic work The Odyssey the character named Mentor [Mentes] was a trusted friend of Ulysses [Odysseus] King of Ithaca. Mentor was commended with the care of Ulysses’s estate and family during the years the king was enthralled by his “odyssey”.  Minerva [Athena], goddess of wisdom and war, often appeared to Ulysses’s son Telemachus in the physical form of Mentor when she offered guidance and wise counsel. The lasting impression Mentor made on the youthful Telemachus is evident:


Telemachus and Mentor

“Sir”, answered Telemachus, “it has been very kind of you to talk to me in this way, as though I were your own son, and I will do all you tell me.” Mentor [Minerva] took her leave and “…flew away like a bird into the air, but she had given Telemachus courage. He felt the change, wondered at it, and knew that the stranger had been a god.”

The story of Ulysses’s son Telemachus and the character Mentor carried well beyond the connection begun in Homer’s famed Odyssey. These two characters meet again in the 18th century publication Les Aventures deTelemaque penned by Fenelon, Archbishop of Cambrai. Life sometimes mirrors story, and in this case history places the author Fenelon as tutor and mentor to the young dauphin, grandson of King Louis XIV of France, second in line to the throne.

Tormentor —
Beastly, malicious, cruel; causing distress…intentional or unintentional. A tormentor evokes “a state of great bodily or mental suffering; agony; misery”. Throughout history the villain tormented his (or her) victim…toyed with their emotional, physical, and psychological well being. But not only the villain torments.  In Homer’s Odyssey, Penelope (Ulysses’s wife) was accused of tormenting her suitors for years by her continual unwillingness to choose a husband from among them. And in the Harry Potter stories, Harry (the hero) fulfilled the role of tormentor to his arch nemesis Voldemort (he who must not be named) through his very existence.  Coincidentally, the verb “harry” is a synonym for “torment”.

Although quite often the obvious tormentor is also the villain in the story, in reality one’s most valuable mentor may take the guise of the tormentor, or perceived as such…only recognized later for the valuable lessons bestowed. They are those who push us to reach beyond our comfort zone and realize our true potential. Perhaps our greatest wisdom is gained through perseverance, determination, and reflection from an encounter with a tormentor. Adversity can be a great teacher.

Occasionally we may interchange “torment” with a “bout of relentless teasing”. In the world of theater those narrow side curtains hung to establish the width of the onstage setting and hide backstage lights and scenery are called Tormentors. Teasers are the name given the short curtains hung from the top of the stage setting, to establish the height of the viewing area. Tormentors and Teasers frame the action, guiding our focus. In this regard Tormentors and Teasers may torture our curiosity (what lies behind the curtain, we wonder) but they are meant to be helpful, masking distractions; thereby adding enjoyment to our overall experience.

Dementor —
Dementors are the quintessential “anti-mentors”…steer clear of them for your own sake. The prefix de acts as a detractor, taking something away; offering diminishing returns. Dementors were characters found in the Harry Potter series. Far worse than tormentors, they drained the very life essence from their victims. Professor Remus Lupin describes them to Harry in the following passage of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:

“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them…Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.” 

Acknowledge Your Mentor
Many successful and accomplished individuals seek out mentors as guides and confidants. The role of mentor is highly regarded, so much so that an entire month is set aside in appreciation of that special honor. January is National Mentor Month, with one day in that month designated as “Thank Your Mentor Day”.

* Note:  The Adventures of Telemachus, the Son of Ulysses, was translated from an earlier French version by John Hawkesworth and published in English in 1847 .

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