The history of mentoring traces back to Greek mythology. Mentor was a friend of King Odysseus, entrusted to watch over the latter’s son Telemachus. Mentor’s near parental relationship when guiding Telemachus stuck, and the word now bears a similar connotation to this day. “Men” in Greek means “one who thinks” and “tor” is the masculine suffix. Another version, however, is the term comes from a loose translation of “men” taking children on a “tour.”
The 1699 French book “Les Aventures de Telemaque” written by François Fénelon, an imitation of Homer’s classic “The Odyssey” made the concept popular in modern times. François Fénelon was the tutor to the grandson of King Louis XIV, and the lessons he expounded in the book aimed at guiding his pupil in how to become a peaceful and wise monarch.
A study of successful personalities throughout the course of world history reveals most such men had mentors who cared about their growth and development. Alexander the Great had Aristotle, King Arthur of England had Merlin, Chandragupta Muarya of India had Chanakya, Paul of Tarsus, a famous Christian bishop of the first century had Timothy, the poet T. S. Eliot had Ezra Pound, Martin Luther King had Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, Beethoven and Mozart had Haydn. The list is endless. A form of this concept was always practiced in monasteries from time immemorial, as illustrated by Saint Bede in his De Corpore, and other narratives, and continues to the day.
Although the word “mentor” made its first appearance in the English language in 1750, in Chester’s work ‘Letters to Son, 8th March’ the concept was in vogue much earlier. The guild economy of medieval England survived on craftsmen who manufactured products in their cottage-factories. These craftsmen passed on their trade to their pupils, in a process that bears striking similarity to the modern concept. Such apprentices served their master for 12 years or until they reached 21 years of age.
This relationship came to define mentoring as a process where an older person helps to counsel and guide a younger person. Although mentoring began as a process by a known and trusted person, it has evolved into a variety of programs where adults are recruited and trained to become mentors for youth in need of adult assistance.”