Back in Book Three of Vergil’s Aeneid, we encounter another example of people attempting to recreate, exactly, what they have lost, so that they can continue to live in a vanished past. When Aeneas and his people land at Buthrotum, on the Adriatic coast, they find that the Trojan exiles who have already settled there have created an exact replica of the lost Troy. Aeneas sees a mock river Simois (Aeneid 3.302) and a monument to Hector that is, in fact, an empty tomb (Aeneid 3.303-305), at which Hector’s wife Andromache prays. The town, too, is an exact model of Troy: As he approaches the city itself Aeneas sees “a miniature Troy”, as well as a dry creek bed named for the great Trojan river Xanthus and a portal named for the Scaean gate of Troy (Aeneid 3.349-351).
Helenus and Andromache and their band of Trojans seem to have achieved the dream of all Trojan exiles: They have Troy back again. And yet, it is not a real Troy; even Aeneas identifies it to its inhabitants as a copy, rather than as a real and living city (Aeneid 3.497). This model Troy is smaller, it is a replica, and a dry stream bed masquerades as the mighty river Xanthus. The dry stream bed shows another aspect of this new Troy: nothing is growing or progressing. There is no mention of fields and crops, or of growing families. There is no advancement or progress, and no happiness: Andromache still weeps for her lost husband and child, and tries to call Hector’s ghost to her. And in calling Hector’s ghost to come back to her, Andromache signals that she is too committed to the past to move on. A dead Hector is, apparently, of more interest to her than a living Helenus. She continues to identify as Hector’s wife, and to wish that she, like Priam’s daughter Polyxena, had died at Troy (Aeneid 3.321-323). Andromache later tries to anchor Aeneas’ son Ascanius in this same Trojan past, claiming him for it by emphasizing his resemblance to her own lost son Astyanax (Aeneid 3.489).
Instead of moving on, the inhabitants of Buthrotum are stuck. Seeing this, Aeneas himself determines to move forward to the new land that lies (literally: Aeneid 3.381-383) before him. After spending several days as an honoured guest in the new, sterile Troy, Aeneas is eager to move forward and takes the initiative in asking Helenus, a seer, for divinely inspired guidance on how to move forward into an unfamiliar future (Aeneid 3.358). Aeneas now accepts that the past is past, and that clinging to it too fiercely and with too much loyalty impedes progress toward the future that awaits. Happiness and success cannot derive from recreating, faithfully and to the last detail, things gone by. And so Aeneas moves away from Troy, both real and replicated, toward his future.