The Epic Behavior of Charlie Sheen (“Oh, To Have Adonis DNA and Tiger-Blood!”)

Last week’s post suggested that the drama of sporting events invariably provides a spiritual experience of enthusiasm, even ecstasy, for both athletes and spectators. Someone versed in depth psychology and/or mythological studies might look at that experience and identify the psychodynamics at work as being some of the same energies which gave birth and staying power to the myth of Dionysus in Ancient Greece. In other words, whether we are “fired up” in the stands or on the field of play the myth of Dionysus – at least for and in the moment – is alive in us again.

However, it is also important to note the possibility of engaging these and other Dionysian energies to an unhealthy extreme. The player who goes into the stands to fight with spectators and the spectator who disrupts play by drunkenly running onto the field are two relatively mundane examples. The disregard of boundaries and limitations is quite common for the type of figure which counts Dionysus as a member. Specifically, this type, or archetype, is called a puer aeternus (pron. pu-air eternus) or eternal youth. The plus side of the puer aeternus is his creative energy, radiant love of life, and infectious likeability. The down side manifests in destructive and immature outbursts, an inability to establish and maintain intimate relationships, and a disdain for discipline and responsibility.[1]

In addition to Dionysus, other figures from myth who are puer aeterni include but are not limited to Tammuz, Mithras, Osiris, Baldur, Attis, Icarus, and Adonis. This last figure has been somewhat in the collective consciousness lately following actor Charlie Sheen’s recent claim that he has “Adonis DNA.” Certainly, Sheen means this not literally but figuratively; in psychological terms we would further say “not figuratively, but archetypally.” That is to say Sheen is living the archetype of the puer aeternus, specifically the form it takes in Adonis. As Mythfire will attempt to show perhaps Sheen is living this myth to a greater degree than he even knows.

First and more generally it is not too difficult to identify both positive and negative tendencies of the puer aeternus in Sheen. Perhaps the negative tendencies have been most on display lately, especially in light of his public appearances and statements these last two weeks. A few examples of the latter negative puer tendencies from Sheen’s life no doubt include several marriages and public outbursts involving women, his Bacchanalian lifestyle of late night parties replete with drugs and porn stars, and even his likening himself recently to an “F-18” which is very much in keeping with the puer’s love of power, speed, and danger. [2]

Then there is Sheen’s already mentioned (over-)identification with the specific puer aeternus figure of Adonis. When one realizes that Adonis is a Semitic word meaning “lord” it comes as no surprise that Sheen, as lord or god, feels that the usual rules need not apply to him. Additionally, in his original myths Adonis split his time between two goddesses, Persephone and Aphrodite, one serving more of a motherly role and the other more of a consort. We shouldn’t be too surprised then when in a recent TV interview Sheen introduced us to his “goddesses,” one of whom is described as Sheen’s nanny and the other as a porn star. Adonis must have his mother and his consort (and yet seemingly cannot relate too well to either of them.)

Unfortunately, another trait binding most if not all of the above-mentioned puer aeterni is that they experience a tragic and untimely demise. Adonis is no exception. According to the myth, though warned by Aphrodite, Adonis cannot restrain his bloodlust for big game – you might say his “tiger-blood” which is another of Sheen’s self-described qualities – and as a result Adonis goes in pursuit of a wild boar his dogs have scented. Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, vividly describes what happens next: “A sidelong twist of the snout knocked [Adonis’ lance] away, smeared with the blood of the victim, a sight which enraged the boar. In fury it turned on the hunter, who tried to avoid its charge. In vain; the animal buried his tusks in Adonis’ groin, and tumbled the boy, as he perished, full length on the yellow sand.”[3]

The long list of prematurely dying puer aeterni in myth is only surpassed by their dying puer counterparts in real life. Of course, Mythfire hopes that Charlie Sheen’s name does not join this list. If one is or knows a puer aeternus like Sheen, psychology and myth may very well offer a few healing and preventative insights. First, many of the mythic puer aeterni already mentioned (as well as some not mentioned) die as Adonis did, i.e. castrated by having a boar’s tusks “buried” in their groin. Ouch. This image suggests two things: the problem with the puer is connected not only to the unbridled, unwavering instinctuality symbolized by the wild boar but also more basically to a flawed idea of masculinity, i.e. “what it means to be a man.” The imagery contained within the myth suggests that at least in part the solution to this problem is to be “unmanned” of this idea so that a genuine soulful connection to more feminine values of love, relatedness, caring and service takes place. In time, this connection will itself facilitate a new, less self-centered, less overly spirited understanding of manhood.

Perhaps the figure from myth that ideally embodies the reformed or transformed puer is Odysseus. Interestingly, Odysseus also was gored by a boar in the thigh as a youth, but unlike the other mythic figures Odysseus survived. He, too, was something of a Don Juan lover of women and goddesses until he remembered (and reunited with) the love of his wife Penelope, the wisdom of his father Laertes, and the responsibility to both his son Telemachus and the larger Ithacan community. All of these acts ultimately paved the way for Odysseus’ re-formation as a man.

In his essay “Puer Wounds and Odysseus’s Scar” psychologist James Hillman states that puers lack the ability to hold in, keep back, or stop short — steps needed so that they might reflect upon their energies and the events in their lives. Instead of being able to contain their energies, however, the puer usually is “afflicted by openness”: “The puer influence in any complex lays out its wares in public, and passers-by are amazed that anyone can be so open, so unpsychological. This public display is enacted by writers, painters, performers, whose complexes compulsively insist on being widely published, hung upon the wall, or shown to applauding audiences.”[4]

Hillman makes clear that the reflection needed by the puer enables awareness of one’s own woundedness and limitations. Instead of being “afflicted by openness” puers would then become open to their afflictions. They see that their wounds themselves are open, painful, limiting: “The wound announces impossibility and impotence. It says: ‘I am unable.’ It brutally brings awareness to the fact of limitation. This limitation is not imposed from without by external powers, but this anatomical gap is an inherent part of me, concomitant with every step I take, every reach I make.”[5]

In light of his recent self-aggrandizing TV interviews, Twitter updates, and upcoming tours it would seem that Charlie Sheen is more afflicted by openness than he is open to his own afflictions. (Clearly, his repeated motto of “Winning!” is also the very opposite of the just-mentioned, humbling confession: “I am unable.”)  If Hillman is right in asserting that it is Odysseus’ scar which “humanizes” him, then Mythfire hopes that Sheen and other eternal youths like him are able to identify their scars and their humanity before boar tusks find their bloody mark.[6] Being a god may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Perhaps it’s better to be Odysseus than Adonis.


Addendum: Each of us lives one or more myths over the course of a lifetime. The myth may be that of soldier, healer, teacher, mother, father, leader, actor, child, and so on. In other words we may re-incarnate Ares, Asclepius, Hera or Hestia, Zeus, Apollo, Dionysus, Aphrodite, or energies closely identified with other mythic figures. To look at Charlie Sheen as an example of the puer aeternus or Adonis is meant less to psychoanalyze or criticize him as it is to exemplify dynamics which may very well be at work in our own lives, informing the myth by which we consciously or – as the case so often is – unconsciously live.


Next Monday: The Epic Behavior of Carlos Estevez (“What’s in a Name?!!?”)


[1] Murray Stein defines archetype as “an innate potential pattern of imagination, thought, or behavior that can be found among human being in all times and places.” (Jung’s Map of the Soul: An Introduction, p. 233) Also, Dionysus is linked with both positive and negative aspects of the puer aeternus in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: “Behold puer aeternus with his angel seeming face, But oh, those invisible horns!” (Book 4, lines 28 and/or 29, trans. Rolfe Humphries.)

[2] In addition to referring to himself as an “F-18,” Sheen said “I have one speed. I have one gear: Go!” Most of the Sheen quotes in this blog can be seen in two video clips ( and or the article “Some See Poetry in Charlie Sheen’s ‘Adonis DNA’” found here: The title of the present post (“The Epic Behavior of Charlie Sheen”) comes from Sheen’s  use of the phrase “epic behavior,” apparently meant in a positive way about his lifestyle. Finally, if a longer piece were to be written on “Sheen as Puer” other quotes of his could easily inspire further puer musings. For instance, his statement that he has “poetry in my fingertips” links Sheen to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s narcissistic “poet-hero” as discussed on pages 59-60 of Ann Yeoman’s Now or Neverland: Peter Pan and the Myth of Eternal Youth.

[3] The Ovid excerpt comes from Book 10, lines 713-718 of Metamorphoses and was found in Barry B. Powell’s Classical Myth, 4th Ed., p. 250. On p. 248 Powell says that Adonis “cared only for the hunt” which no doubt is quite common to people with “tiger-blood.” One myth-sized historical figure who may have died under Adonis-like circumstances is King Tut. However, in the latter’s case it wasn’t “tiger-blood” that might have done him in but “hippo-blood.” (

[4] Senex & Puer, 230-1. The two sentences prior to the indented quote draw from page 229. Finally, Hillman’s book along with Marie-Louise von Franz’s The Problem of the Puer Aeternus are the classic texts in depth psychology on the puer. Also, Puer Papers, a book featuring some of Hillman’s articles later re-published in Senex & Puer has additional important essays on the subject by other authors.

[5] Ibid., 233, italics added. In his essay “Puer Wounds and Odysseus’ Scar” Hillman provides multiple examples of how the puer is wounded or “crippled,” (p. 214), and that his true salvation comes through an awareness and acceptance of his crippledness. Charlie Sheen’s father Martin said much the same thing in an article posted online today about Charlie’s need to face his “emotionally crippled” psyche:

[6] Ibid., 237.


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1 Response to The Epic Behavior of Charlie Sheen (“Oh, To Have Adonis DNA and Tiger-Blood!”)

  1. Harris says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for
    your further post thank you once again.

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