The face that launched a thousand ships.

Helen of Troy didn’t win last week’s Miss Universe Pageant, but only because she didn’t enter. Count your blessings on avoiding an even older contestant, R’Bonney!

Homer’s great heroine, of course, was the ember catalyzing the Trojan War – Menelaus the king of Sparta sending in the troops to regain his wife. That her “capture” had been accomplished at the hands of her lover, Paris, only shows how striking a figure she must have been. And how expensive a date.

The thousand ships line, however, is not in Homer’s Iliad. Helen of Troy continued to beguile into the 17th century, her image inspiring British playwright Christopher Marlowe to center The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus on the 700 B.C. beauty. Long story short, Doc Faustus sells his soul to the devil and, as his end of the bargain, gets to commune with ghosts. Enter, Helen.

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul; see where it flies!—
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for Heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.
I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy, shall Wittenberg be sack’d;
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
And then return to Helen for a kiss.

Gotta hand it to her: Helen knew how to work a room. Just imagine if she actually existed!

With Sunday’s New Lunar Year rising (the first new moon after Jan. 20), I’m thinking about faces launching armadas.

The phrase that launched a thousand miles.

That’s the way I would phrase it.

For me, the Lunar New Year means one thing: Mary Queen of Vietnam’s Tet Celebration. Located so far in the East you may actually be west, the Catholic parish hosts an annual fair to ring in the New Year.

Or pop in the New Year. They got some fireworks! And dragon dancers!! And 26 people, two bands, and one car on their promotional flyer!!!

In the New Year of 2007 (or of the golden pig, for those keeping lunar animal score), I drove to the Tet Celebration with Archbishop Alfred Hughes. I was in First Theology at Notre Dame Seminary and happy to experience a local cultural event.

And to try out my fledgling Vietnamese.

Chúc mừng năm mới!

The “Happy New Year” greeting was one of two Vietnamese phrases I knew—and I phở-style simmered it for all it was worth.

Months later, Archbishop Hughes and I had another firework-stunning conversation: He wanted me to go to Rome. For four years, and a couple degrees.

As I considered the plan—and wondered what I had done to that golden pig—the archbishop offered one memorable reason for why me: If I could learn enough Vietnamese for a drive to the East, I could probably handle Italian.

Chúc mừng năm mới-oy vey!

The phrase that launched a thousand miles.

As you notice Sunday’s New Moon, remember the lunar celebrations, Helen of Troy, and the roundtrip international travel that connects us all together.

And, then, remember Google’s translation guide.

A search engine to rival fair Helen. To write poetry for. To display a phonetic beauty that launched a thousand miles.


Mary Queen of Vietnam is also the only place I have ever eaten a duck egg. Both times: first and last. I’ll spare you from that image—and that inflation-tide price tag—in favor of more dragon dancing!