Friday, July 10, 2009

A Thousand Ships, A Thousand Stars

I remember I was still a small boy when I found myself a copy of Marlowe's Faustus in the corner of my literary aunt's house. It was a tattered old Penguin book, with a simple brown cover. The worms had been at it.

And then I found these lines:

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

(Skipped some soppy stuff here)

O thou art fairer than the evening air,
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter...

For a small boy brought up on classical myths and astronomy, the imagery was astounding. I could not imagine what kind of beauty the woman possessed, but I could imagine it was something I could not quite imagine, an intensity equivalent to that of a supernova, a nebula, a galaxy of stars.

As the years went by, I met many women, even some Greek ones. I found myself wondering whether these were faces that could launch a thousand ships or not. Of course, I was not the first in this endeavour; I wonder who it was who first considered the implications of the verse and deduced that if a Helen could launch a thousand ships, a millihelen was sufficient to launch one.

But then I did high school math, physics and chemistry. It became clear to me that Marlowe was describing an energy-related phenomenon; Helen's beauty was related to the impulse sufficient to launch a thousand ships, the energy transfer rate sufficient to consume the towers of Troy, the luminous intensity of a thousand stars and a brightness greater than that of Jupiter.

And in my final pre-university year, it finally clicked. Wow, I said to myself, she must have been one HOT chick! :D

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Blogger Augustin said...

Funny. We use to joke about how all our fat teachers have so much fuel to burn - and would likewise launch a thousand ships. hmm.

Saturday, July 11, 2009 1:36:00 pm  

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