Dante calls him “the last Emperor of the Romans,” and adds, “I say last with respect to the present time, notwithstanding that Rudolf, and Adolphus, and Albert were elected after his death and from his descendants.” This last of the Romans was that famous Frederick II., who died in 1250, and of whom Dante said in his Treatise on the Language of the People: “The illustrious heroes, Frederick Caesar and his son Manfredi, followed after elegance and scorned what was mean; so that all the best compositions of the time came out of their Court. Thus, because their royal throne was in Sicily, all the poems of our predecessors in the Vulgar Tongue were called Sicilian.” Rudolf I. of Hapsburg, founder of the Imperial House of Austria, was elected Emperor in 1273, after a time of confusion and nominal rule. He died in 1291, and, instead of his son Albert, Adolphus of Nassau was next elected Emperor. But in June 1298 Albert obtained election; Adolphus was deposed, and was soon afterwards killed in battle with his rival. Albert was murdered on the 6th of May, 1308, and, after an interregnum of seven months, he was succeeded by Henry VII. of Luxembourg. Now, Dante’s list does not go on from Albert to Henry. It is assumed, therefore, that this passage must have been written before the end of the year 1308.
There is another passage at the close of chapter vi. of the Fourth Treatise (on page 186 in this volume) that points to a like inference of date. Dante writes: “Ye enemies of God, look to your flanks, ye who have seized the sceptres of the kingdoms of Italy. And I say to you, Charles, and to you, Frederick, Kings, and to you, ye other Princes and Tyrants, see who sits by the side of you in council.” The Charles and Frederick here addressed were Charles II. of Anjou, King of Naples, and Frederick of Aragon, King of Sicily; and King Charles died in the year 1310.
It has been inferred, therefore, that the four treatises of the Convito were not written consecutively. The Second Treatise may have been begun some time after the death of Beatrice, in 1290, time being allowed after 1290 for the completion of the Vita Nuova and a period of devotion to philosophic studies. That Second Treatise having been first written, the Treatise on Nobility, the Fourth, may have next followed; and this may have been written before the end of the year 1298. The Third Treatise may have been written later, and made to connect the Second and the Fourth. The First Treatise, or General Introduction, which has in it clear indication of a later date, may have been written last, when the whole design was brought into shape. Various reasons have been used for dating this final arrangement of the plan for an Ethical survey of human knowledge in fifteen treatises, and the suggested date is the year 1314. The whole work seems to have been planned. Besides the references to the Fifteenth Treatise, there is a glance forward to the matter of the Seventh Treatise in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Fourth.