Ideas in Antiquity--Leadership in the Ancient World: From Telemachus to T'Challa

Week Two: Mentorship

Session One

This week we will begin our study of becoming a leader in the ancient world by analyzing one of the oldest extant stories of how an heir to the throne is mentored into the role by--you guessed it!--a mentor. We will begin with the story of Telemachus in the ancient Greek oral epic poem, the Odyssey, a work from the 7th-century BCE attributed in the ancient world to a poet called Homer. NOTE: Because there is more reading for our second session (Thursday), you may want to get a head-start on it.

As we read, we will be focused on two main questions: (1) what leadership behavior does Telemachus come to exhibit and (2) how exactly does he develop these behaviors? We will focus especially on the mentorship that Telemachus receives from the goddess Athena in her disguises as Mentes and Mentor.

But first...

Assignment One
Consider this scenario and answer the following questions (you may cut and past this exercise into your own notes and turn in as an assignment in your journal on


Your parents are co-owners and operators of a business that produces fabrics for high-end fashion designers. This business has been in your family for generations, and you, their only child, stand to inherit it when your parents are ready to turn it over to you. The business is also overseen by a board of twelve people with no ties to your family or its history. As well as you can tell, their only interest in the business is financial. They don’t care about any of the employees or even the quality of the fabric so long as the business turns a healthy profit.

To celebrate your first year in college your parents have decided to take a vacation to Bermuda by themselves. Somewhere along the way their plane crashes and there is no word as to whether they have survived. Four weeks have gone by and is possible that they are stranded on a desert island waiting to be rescued; but it is also possible that they perished in the plane crash. All reports are inconclusive. Their absence has left the future of the business in doubt. The board is using this opportunity to make a lot of short-term profits and run up their own expense accounts with fancy dinners, company-sponsored parties, and conference trips to exotic locations. The board is also pursuing all of the legal means they can to take over the company and either become owners themselves or to sell the company to the highest bidder, likely leading to the dismissal of many of the employees who have worked in the company for years and likely changing forever the brand of the company. Moreover, the board has no interest in seeing you become head of the company: they believe you are weak and incompetent. The law is not clear on the matter of the takeover, but public relations can play a big role; so, the board must pursue its takeover in a way to make the company (and its would-be owners) seem as sound and sustainable as possible. Thus, you have an opportunity to resist them through a PR war. What would you do in this scenario?


1. What emotions do you expect you would feel (circle all that apply)?

2. Which three of these emotions do you believe you would find it most difficult to manage? Explain your choices.
3. Which three of these emotions do you believe you would find most easy to manage? Explain your choice

4. Circle how easy or difficult you believe you would find it to carry out each of the following responses (very difficult, difficult, neutral, easy, very easy):

Deliver a speech to an assembly of the whole company in which you explain why you are qualified to run the company.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Deliver a speech in which you speak bluntly about the ways in which you believe the board is not competent to run the company and is in fact greedy and/or evil
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Call out individual board members by name on their greediness.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Phone up, or even visit in person, your parents’ most prestigious and influential contacts, in attempts to persuade them to make public statements about how you are more competent to run the company than the board.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Seek and carry out the advice of trusted family friends and legal counsel.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Pay a private investigator to dig up dirt on the board members, and members of their families, that you will then publish, or threaten to publish, in order get them to back down from trying to take over the company.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Acknowledge your shortcomings in running the company and find ways to compensate for them.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Hire people to threaten the board members physically, so that they won’t try to take over what you see as your company.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Physically threaten the board members yourself.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Reach out to each of the board members to determine which ones are most hostile to you and least hostile.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Pursue a compromise with the board, in spite of their past behavior and attitude toward you.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Interview the many employees of the company to determine who is most loyal to you.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Lie to the faces of the board members in order to conceal your true intention to take control of the company.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Lie to friends and those loyal to the company because you feel that it is necessary to keep certain plans to yourself for the sake of everyone’s best interest.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Persuade the most talented people in the company to remain loyal to you and not to seek employment somewhere else.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Separate your own personal interests from what is best for the employees in the company and its customers.
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

4. Identify the two responses you would find easiest and the two you would find most difficult to carry out.  Explain why you would find them easy/difficult.

5. Do you consider all of these responses to be appropriate, given the situation? If so, what could you do to become better at carrying out the responses you consider appropriate?

6. Are there other responses not listed here that you believe would be appropriate?

Assignment Two
Now consider more carefully the role of the mentor (answer these questions in your journal):
1. What is a mentor? In particular, what is the difference between a mentor and each of these other figures in society who try to make us better at something: a teacher, a coach, a role model, a sponsor, and a trainer.
2. Have you had a mentor before? What did he/she do that qualified as mentoring?
3. How does someone find a mentor? How does someone become ready for a mentor?

Session Two

In this session we will look very closely at the kinds of things a mentor can do for a mentee to help him/her become a leader. In the class discussion keep an eye out for the following key terms in ancient Greek: menos, kleos, mythos, aidos, epios, nepios, xenia. Also, keep an eye out for the following key names: Telemachus, Athena (Mentes, Mentor), Penelope, Antinous, Eurymachus, Nestor, Menelaus. 

Assignment One: Read Books 1-2 of the Odyssey. You may follow this link.
Assignment Two: As you read, look for answers to the following questions and write them down:
1. What does Telemachus do to prepare himself to take over his father's (Odysseus') household?
2. What does Athena do for Telemachus that qualifies as mentorship?
3. To what extent is this story a good formula for becoming a leader today?
4. What can you do to find more and better mentors? What could you do to be a better mentor?