It is natural to suppose that Dante's death at Ravenna in 1321 caused
the Convito, a work of his latter years, to be left unfinished. But
there are arguments that have been especially dwelt upon by writers
who regard the Convito as a work begun before the conception of the
Divine Comedy, and dropped when the Poet's mind became intent upon
One argument is that the Divine Comedy is nowhere mentioned or alluded
to in the Convito. But as the place designed for the Convito is midway
between the Vita Nuova, which preceded it, and the Divine Comedy,
which was to follow, references to the poem which was not yet before
the reader would have been a fault in art.
Another argument is drawn from the fourteenth chapter of the Second
Treatise, where (on page 84 in this volume) the shadow in the Moon is
ascribed to "the rarity of its body, in which the rays of the Sun can
find no end wherefrom to strike back again as in the other parts." In
the second canto of the Purgatorio, Beatrice opposes that opinion,
whence it may be inferred that Dante had learnt better, and he speaks
of this again in a later canto (the twenty-second) as a former
opinion. This leads to an inference that the Second Treatise was
written before 1300.
Attention is due also to a passage in the third chapter of the First
Treatise (on pages 16 and 17 in this volume), in which Dante speaks of
his long exile and poverty. The exile and the wanderings of Dante
began after the year 1300. He was befriended by Guido da Polenta in
Ravenna, by Uguccione della Faggiola in Lucca, by Malaspina in the
Lunigiana, by Can Grande della Scala in Verona, by Bosone de'
Raffaelli in Gubbio, by the Patriarch Pagano della Torre in Udine. In
1311, when the Emperor Henry of Luxembourg went to Italy, Dante had
some hope of return, which passed away in 1313 when that Emperor died
in Buonconvento. Dante remained in exile. In 1321 his patron, Guido
Novello da Polenta, sent him on an embassy to Venice, in which he was
unsuccessful. The sea way being blocked, he had to return by land, and
he was struck by the malaria which caused his death by fever on the
14th of September in that year, 1321. This reference to long exile
leads to an inference that the First Treatise was written much later
But, again, there is a passage in the third chapter of the Fourth
Treatise (on page 171 of this volume) that points to an earlier date.
Frederick of Suabia is named as the Emperor who
As far as he could see,
Descent of wealth, and generous ways,
To make Nobility.
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.
The question of date is not of great importance, and this may console
us though we know that it can never be settled. Here it is only
touched upon to show the significance of one or two historical
allusions in the book.