In The Decameron, physical gifts represent the power dynamics of relationships between people. They symbolize and enact a complex system of relationships and obligations between individuals, primarily serving to demonstrate generosity, recognize a person’s worth, or create obligations between one person and another. Kings and noblemen demonstrate generosity with gifts, including Can Grande Della Scalla; Mulay Abd Allah; and the Abbot of Cluny. Nathan offers his life to Mithridanes. Gilette, King Charles, and King Peter all provide dowries for impoverished women. Gifts can also confirm the recipient’s worth, as when the French King forgives and restores Walter with gifts. Gifts can discharge obligations between people, as when Landolfo Rufolo repays his debt to the peasant woman who rescued him from the sea with a gift and Madonna Piccarda pays for Cuitazza’s help with the gift of a smock. Or gifts—particularly lover’s tokens—can create obligation: the Womanizing Abbot gives Ferondo’s Wife jewelry to convince her to have sex with him and the Worthy Priest tries to do the same with Belcolore; Gerbino and the Tunisian Princess express their mutual attraction through the exchange of gifts; and Rinieri demonstrates his desire and makes a claim on Elena’s affections with letters and gifts. Thus, while sometimes gift-giving can be a mutual exchange, it can also establish one-sided or imbalanced relationships and ties of obligation between people.
Gifts Quotes in The Decameron
The stones he possessed were, he discovered, so valuable and numerous that, even if he sold them at less than their market value, he would be twice as rich as when he had set out. So that, having taken steps to dispose of his gems, he sent, by way of payment for services received, a tidy sum of money to the good woman of Corfu who had fished him out of the sea. And likewise, he sent a further sum to the people at Trani who had given him the new clothes. He was no longer interested in commerce, so he kept the remainder of the money and lived in splendor for the rest of his days.