John Flaxman (1755–1826): Athena, in the shape of Mentor, and Telemachus (Odysséen, Niloe 1973).
Mentor 4 was an old friend of Odysseus. To him Odysseus entrusted his household when he joined the coalition that sailed against Troy. Athena, assuming several times the shape of Mentor 4, became the guide of Odysseus' son Telemachus, giving him prudent counsel. Since then, wise and trusted advisers have been called "mentors".
When Odysseus joined
the alliance that sailed against Troy, he left Mentor 4 in charge of keeping his household safe. But Odysseus stayed away
too long, for ten years passed before the Achaeans
brought the Trojan War to an end, and another ten elapsed between the end
of the war and Odysseus' return to
Ithaca. Now, some have said that absence makes the heart
grow fonder. Also the SUITORS OF
PENELOPE found that Ithaca, with no Odysseus, was indeed an
isle of beauty; accordingly, they grew fonder and
fonder, although not in the usual way, but of Odysseus' estate and
How the SUITORS saw the
There was nothing wrongthe SUITORS reasonedin wishing to marry this queen, whom
they considered a widow. But Penelope, they argued,
had fooled them several years, asking them to wait
for her decision until she had completed the shroud
of Laertes, which she in reality never intended to
complete, since she wove it by day but undid it by
night. To compensate themselves for the queen's
tricks, the SUITORS decided
that the household would pay for their great feasts
until Penelope, leaving
her cleverness aside, made her choice. And so the SUITORS, finding
it quite natural to organise great parties at the
expense of Odysseus'
household, slaughtered his animals and drank his wine in his own palace. While all this was taking place, Odysseus' son Telemachus, who at
the time did not know whether his father was dead
or alive, could neither oppose the SUITORS'
pestering of his mother with unwanted attentions,
nor his wealth being frittered away by their
Now, those who commit crimes are fools because
they, failing to discern between right and wrong,
and being therefore unjust, destroy everything even
for themselves. But those who allow the crimes to
be committed create guilt for themselves; for they
let evil spread, though they know better than the
fools who destroy their own lives through crime.
And whereas it is obvious that criminals, acting
from the wickedness of their hearts often risk
their own skins, those who sit in abject silence
giving way to injustice, nurture the vain hope of
Mentor 4 despises his compatriots
That is why Mentor 4 despised the Ithacan citizens more than he hated the SUITORS. For
they, although being many, neither condemned the SUITORS nor
demanded restraint from them, who were few. This kind of omission, explains Mentor 4, leads to tyranny. For when no gratitude is shown towards a kind, fair, and generous rule, then someone may think that it might be just as well to devote himself to tyranny or lawless deeds. And if one were to judge by the case of King Odysseus, it was
apparent that he was not being supported, during
his absence, by those who had benefited from his
rule. All these thoughts Mentor 4 threw, during an assembly, at the face of the same Ithacan citizens that were the object of his reflection, which shows that he was not hindered by what is called a "hairy tongue", but instead spoke freely.
Athena assumes his
Now, either because Mentor 4 was a man of integrity, or because he was an excellent friend of his friends, or because he did not deal in lies, or because he could speak out if necessary, or for all these reasons, or for other motives known or unknown, the goddess Athena assumed his shape
many times in order to give counsel to those she
wished to help. So turning herself into Mentor 4, she came to Telemachus, and gave
him instructions concerning his journey to Pylos and Sparta, where he went to gather news about his father; and when the ship was ready, she gave the order to start the journey and came herself on board, always looking as the trustful Mentor 4 and using his voice.
Nothing can be compared to the favor of the
gods: in Pylos,
unexperienced Telemachus was
closely guided by Athena, in the shape of Mentor 4, when about to meet Nestor:
Telemachus: Mentor, how am I to go up to
the great man? How shall I greet him? Remember that
I have had no practice in making speeches; and a
young man may well hesitate to cross-examine one so
much his senior.
Athena: Telemachus, where your native wit fails,
heaven will inspire you. It is not for nothing that
the gods have watched your progress ever since your
Where is the real Mentor 4?
While Athena was showing herself as Mentor 4 on board and in Pylos, the real man was in Ithaca involuntarily puzzling others. For when Noemon 3, the prominent Ithacan who provided the vessel in which Telemachus sailed in
search for his father, answered the questions that
were posed by the SUITORS about
the nature and details of Telemachus' journey,
"… As for the young fellows who went with him, they are the noblest in the land, next to ourselves. I noted one going on board as their leader, Mentor, or a god, who was in all things like him. But at this I marvel. I saw the good Mentor here yesterday at early dawn. Yet he certainly boarded my ship for Pylos that night." (Noemon 3 to Antinous 2. Homer, Odyssey 4.650).
Mentor 4 seen in the battle against the SUITORS
When the final battle between Odysseus and the SUITORS took
place, Athena appeared once more in the shape of Mentor 4, and she was insulted and threatened by the suitor Agelaus 5 of Same, son of Damastor 3 who addressed her thus:
"Mentor … When we have killed these men, father and son, you too shall join them and shall die … And when our swords have disposed of you and your friends, we shall throw in all you possess, indoors or out, with Odysseus' estate. We shall not let son or
daughter of yours live in your house, and your good
wife will not dare to show herself in the streets
of Ithaca." (Agelaus 5 to Athena in the shape of Mentor 4. Homer, Odyssey 22.215ff.).
What Medon 5 said to the SUITORS'
In spite of these threats, the SUITORS OF
PENELOPE were killed by Odysseus and those few
who helped him. As a result, a crowd of mourners
gathered at Odysseus'
gate, carrying out the corpses and burying their
dead. After that, the assembled Ithacans denounced Odysseus as an enemy, who having lost army and ships, had at his return slaughtered the noblest among the Ithacans and Cephallenians. It was then that the herald Medon 5 addressed them saying:
"Listen my fellow-Ithacans … and you will understand that in acting as he did Odysseus was not without the guiding of heaven. With my own eyes I saw an immortal, who looked exactly like Mentor, standing at his side …" (Medon 5 to the Ithacans. Homer, Odyssey 24.445).
What Halitherses told to the same SUITORS
Also Halitherses, a soothsayer from Ithaca who
had warned the SUITORS OF
PENELOPE, and was an old friend of the House of Odysseus, reminded them of their previous meeting, when Mentor 4 had admonished them:
wickedness, my friends, is to blame for what has
happened. You would not listen to me or to your
leader Mentor, when we urged you to check your sons
in their career of folly." (Halitherses to the Ithacans. Homer, Odyssey 24.455).
Nevertheless, the SUITORS'
relatives, commanded by Eupeithes, rose in arms
attacking the palace, which was defended by Odysseus, his son Telemachus, and his
father Laertes. Eupeithes was killed by Laertes,
while Odysseus and his
son fell on the front rank of the enemy, and smote
them with their swords.
Athena again as Mentor 4
Here Athena, using Mentor 4's form and voice once more, commanded Odysseus to put an end to the civil war, and established peace between the two forces. Yet some have said that later, and because of
this conflict, Odysseus had to go into exile.
Others with identical name
- Mentor 1 is the son of Heracles 1 and Asopis 1, one of the daughters of Thespius.
- Mentor 2 is son of Eurystheus and
- Mentor 3 is father of a Trojan named Imbrius, who was killed in the Trojan War by Teucer 1, son of Telamon, son of Aeacus.