Even the more attractive beauties of woods, rills, and flowers, were hailed rather as a grateful exchange from the turmoil of the city than from a sense of their intrinsic loveliness; it is the repose, the comfort, ease, in a word the _body_, not the _spirit_ of nature that the Roman poets celebrate.  As a rule their own retirement was not spent amid really rustic scenes. The villas of the great were furnished with every means of making study or contemplation attractive. Rich gardens, cool porticoes, and the shade of planted trees were more to the poet's taste than the rugged stile or the village green. Their aspirations after rural simplicity spring from the weariness of city unrealities rather than from the necessity of being alone with nature. As a fact the poems of Virgil were not composed in a secluded country retreat, but in the splendid and fashionable vicinity of Naples.  The Lake of Avernus, the Sibyl's cave, and the other scenes so beautifully painted in the _Aeneid_ are all near the spot. From his luxurious villa the poet could indulge his reverie on the simple rusticity of his ancestors or the landscapes famous in the scenery of Greek song. At such times his mind called up images of Greek legend that blended with his delineations of Italian peasant life: 
"O ubi campi
Spercheiosque, et virginibus bacchata Lacaenis
Taygeta; o qui me gelidis in vallibus Haemi
Sistat, et ingenti ramorum protegat umbra!"
The very name _Tempe_, given so often to shady vales, shows the mingled literary and aesthetic associations that entered into the love of rural ease and quiet. The deeper emotion peculiar to modern times, which struggles to find expression in the verse of Shelley or Wordsworth, in the canvass of Turner, in the life of restless travel, often a riddle so perplexing to those who cannot understand its source; the mysterious questionings which ask of nature not only what she says to us, but what she utters to herself; why it is that if she be our mother, she veils her face from her children, and will not use a language they can understand--
"Cur natum crudelis tu quoque falsis
Ludis imaginibus? Cur dextrae iungere dextram
Non datur, et veras audire et reddere voces?"
feelings like these which--though often but obscurely present, it would indeed be a superficial glance that did not read in much of modern thought, however unsatisfactory, in much of modern art, however imperfect --we can hardly trace, or, if at all, only as lightest ripples on the surface, scarcely ruffling the serene melancholy, deep indeed, but self- contained because unconscious of its depth, in which Virgil's poetry flows.
At what time of his life Virgil turned his thoughts to epic poetry is not known. Probably like most gifted poets he felt from his earliest years the ambition to write a heroic poem. He expresses this feeling in the _Eclogues_  more than once; Pollio's exploits seemed to him worthy of such a celebration.  In the _Georgics_ he declares that he will wed Caesar's glories to an epic strain,  but though the emperor urged him to undertake the subject, which was besides in strict accordance with epic precedent, his mature judgment led him to reject it.  Like Milton, he seems to have revolved for many years the different themes that came to him, and, like him, to have at last chosen one which by mounting back into the distant past enabled him to indulge historical retrospect, and gather into one focus the entire subsequent development. As to his aptitude for epic poetry opinions differ. Niebuhr expresses the view of many great critics when he says, "Virgil is a remarkable instance of a man mistaking his vocation; his real calling was lyric poetry; his small lyric poems show that he would have been a poet like Catullus if he had not been led away by his desire to write a great Graeco-Latin poem." And Mommsen, by speaking of "successes like that of the _Aeneid_" evidently inclines towards the same view. It must be conceded that Virgil's genius lacked heroic fibre, invention, dramatic power. He had not an idea of "that stern joy that warriors feel," so necessary to one who would raise a martial strain. The passages we remember best are the very ones that are least heroic. The funeral games in honour of Anchises, the forlorn queen, the death of Nisus and Euryalus, owe all their charm to the sacrifice of the heroic to the sentimental. Had Virgil been able to keep rigidly to the lofty purpose with which he entered on his work, we should perhaps have lost the episodes which bring out his purest inspiration. So far as his original endowments went, his mind certainly was not cast in a heroic mould. But the counter-balancing qualifications must not be forgotten. He had an inextinguishable enthusiasm for his art, a heart
"Smit with the love of ancient song,"