Friday, September 16, 2005

Random thought of the week:

The word "mentor" comes from the name of Odysseus's advisor/confidant, according to a pamphlet I've put in about 400 binders over the past few weeks to get ready for some workshops. Mentor had at least some hand in raising Odysseus himself - I don't remember the pamphlet exactly and who knows how accurate it is in the first place - and when Odysseus went off to war in The Iliad, he left his young son in the care of Mentor.

The interesting thing to me is, the French word "menteur" means "liar." Quite a difference. When I first noticed that coincidence, I assumed it was just a case of different roots. The French thing would have come from some Latin word rather than a Greek name.

However, a couple days ago I remembered a factoid from literature classes: Romans believed, or at least their cultural heirs in medieval and Renaissance Europe believed, that Rome was founded by refugees from Troy and Romans were descended from Trojans. This means that even though today Odysseus is considered the good guy, it wasn't always that way - through most of European history he was the villain of the story. The deception that went into making the Trojan horse, the arrogance that offended Poseidon and doomed him to a 10-year odyssey home... to us he's a quick-thinking tragic hero, but a view of him could go either way, and to people who associated themselves with Troy it did go the other way. Dante put Odysseus in the eighth circle of hell, if I remember correctly.

So what I wondered was, do "mentor" and "menteur" have the same root after all? To the Greeks he was a teacher, but to the Romans he was a teacher whose pupil was a liar?

Etymology is the study of words and their roots and history, I think, and entymology is the study of bugs. Or is it the other way around?


Anonymous said...

I usually mess up ety and enty... oh well. The hall misses you!


Ben Heaton said...

I think "menteur," like "mendacious," comes from the Latin "mendum," meaning an error.

Cyrus said...

There you go. So it is just a coincidence. Note to self: French is no substitute for Latin when you're trying to figure stuff like this out.