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Look, I’m not the biggest fan of pop culture, and I am certainly not someone to rehash with you things we all grew tired of over a year ago: but just the same something occurred to me this morning that I think is worth talking about, if only to clear up some misconceptions.

You remember Charlie Sheen, right? That guy who once headlined TVs most popular comedy, and now would be lucky to get a gig stumbling around on Dancing with the Stars? Anyway, at the height of his monumental, drug- and booze- and ego-fueled implosion a while back, he told someone in an interview that he was immune to rehab because he had Adonis DNA. Adonis DNA and tiger blood. He said the main drug he was on was Charlie Sheen.

That he was on drugs is indisputable. That he had a few things wrong about Adonis is also indisputable. It just so happens I’ve been researching seasonal vegetation gods of the ancient world, and Adonis is one of them. His rites were celebrated on or around the summer solstice from Syria to Athens, mostly by women who annually wept over his death and rejoiced at his rebirth—symbolizing, of course, the death and rebirth of nature in the seasonal cycles.

Adonis was born of an incestuous relationship between King Cyniras of Syria and his daughter Myrrha: a seamy and tragic tale in itself, but not one to detail here. Their child was so gorgeous that two goddesses, Aphrodite and Persephone, became smitten and fought over him. Zeus arbitrated the dispute, ruling that Adonis would spend a third of the year in the Underworld with Persephone, a third of the year on earth with Aphrodite, and take his pick for the final third. He chose to spend it with Aphrodite.

He became an avid hunter, though perhaps not a great one, because he was fatally gored by a wild boar. Aphrodite, responding to his groans, flew to his side, but was too late to save him. Her kisses blended with his blood became the blood-red anemone. She swore there that his death would be memorialized every year in a festival named for him, and indeed it was for many centuries throughout the ancient world.

So, what does Charlie Sheen mean when he says that he has ‘Adonis DNA?’ That he is remarkably handsome? I don’t think that was his point. If he meant something about immortality or endurance or strength, I think that if anything, Adonis was a vulnerable creature, destined from birth to die a tragic death. I read in an online forum where someone had asked, in response to Charlie’s rant, what was Adonis DNA. The best answer (as chosen by readers) said, ‘Adonis was a man in Greek mythology who lived forever and had eternal youth and beauty.’ Well, no. That’s not Adonis. While his worship seemed eternal, and his memory was eternal, his death was very real, violent and tragic. There are many versions of the story of Adonis, but in all of them, he dies a violent death. That is the essence of Adonis.

Across the ancient world, there were many myths of mortals and gods who become beloved of some goddess, who die unfair and gruesome deaths, and whose eventual resurrections are cause for annual celebrations. In Sumer there is Dumuz, in Phrygia there is Attis, in Egypt, Osiris. They are all analogous with one another, and Adonis is one in a long line. They are all interpreted as vegetation gods, seasonal gods whose cycles of death and rebirth evoke the changing of the seasons.

I don’t find it surprising that Charlie Sheen chose a personage with the incorrect attributes to describe whatever special traits he thinks he has. I should add that Adonis was also polyamorous, naming gods and men among his many lovers. Is that part of the DNA, Charlie? Further, if he had really known the story of Adonis, he might have named the two porn starlets he shacked up with for a while, and called simply his ‘goddesses,’ Persephone and Aphrodite. Lucky girls, I’m not sure they would have contested as sharply over who got to spend more time with him. Perhaps he would have been better to choose Perseus, Theseus, or Hercules, one of the classical world’s indestructible heroes. It’s very likely that he meant Dionysus, since the Greek god of wine, who remained immortal despite his constant drinking and wenching, evokes Charlie’s behavior (as well as his wishful thinking) more than any other. The names are similar, perhaps easily confused, and I’m supposing that the thought of Adonis’s heart-stopping good looks influenced his choice.

I have no idea what he meant by tiger blood.

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