Magdalena And Balthasar Based upon evidence, fact, and logical reasoning, Steven Ozment explores the relationship of a sixteenth century German merchant and his wife. The piece talks about the hardships of long distance marriage, the Black Plague that swept through Germany, the death of their only child, and the business that helps bind the two lovers together. One of the tactics that Magdalena and Balthasar use to keep each other sane, is the writing of love letters back and forth. No matter where they may be just to make sure that their undivided love will never part. The nature of the relationship between Magdalena and Balthasar consisted of a very strong love for one another. They exchanged love letters whenever Balthasar had to go away on a business trip.
The first place he wrote to his wife was from Lucca. Magdalena would receive his letter about three to four weeks later in their hometown of Nuremberg. Eight of the letters written were from Balthasar and three were from Magdalena. “Magdalena receives all Balthasar’s letters with longing and heartfelt joy’. A letter from him at Christmas time becomes a true gift from the Christ Child'” (Ozment 28). With every written letter, a sense of love and devotion is seen. “I have at 12:00 this might received with great longing your letter of November 11. As I had carefully considered and calculated the mail delivery with which your reply to my letter must come, I waited with longing for a letter last Sunday” (28).
This quote shows that Balthasar is devoted to his wife because he is willing to give up a good day’s worth of trading just to hear from her. Besides all the love that was expressed between the couple in their letters, some tensions are seen. For example, Magdalena became angry with Balthasar because he did not write back to her as soon as he received her new letter. Something like this would worry most wives during this era due to the high death rate caused by germs, viruses, and the Black Plague. “Magdalena complains on December 1 that she has not heard from Balthasar for over two weeks and accuses him of giving his business mail priority over writing to her” (45). Magdalena is a prime example of most women because they both like to be put ahead of everything else in the world.
Little Balthasar was the child of Balthasar and Magdalena in the story. He was born with a deformity in his neck that could not be cured. The old fashioned treatment that was given was a type of ointment called salve. Little Balthasar saw his father as a man with near-magical powers. Anything the young lad asked for, his father would try his hardest to get it to him.
Otherwise, Magdalena would write in her letter how perfect of a child they had. “Magdalena is advocate and sentinel for her son, reminding the absent father of the boy’s worthiness and encouraging paternal recognition and praise.. You must have a satin purse made for little Balthasar'” (92). Magdalena devoted herself to little Balthasar’s education and training. He was attending music lessons by the age of seven. His teacher was even praising him because she never had a pupil grasp the fundamentals so quickly. With the success of new talent, Magdalena insists that Balthasar ought to send his son something.
“Balthasar treated gifts strictly as incentives for good conduct, using them to threaten the boy into behaving well” (94). In the reply letter from his wife, Balthasar instructs her to tell her son how he should be acting. “Magdalena is worried that Balthasar played too much upon the boy’s emotions and did not realize the harsh impact his words and actions could have” (94). He also said that the “quality of their relationship upon his return would depend on his behavior during his absence” (94). Things like this would scare a child into being a perfect angel. Balthasar’s plan wad to keep order in his house while he was on business.
When little Balthasar was eight-years-old, he became ill with worms and dropsy. Neither doctor that looked at him could determine a remedy that would eliminate his pain. Everything from enemas, herbal purgatives, and stomach plasters diluted some of the pain, but not all of it. Magdalena wrote to her husband to come home immediately because she did not know when their son was going to die. Three days after sending the letter, little Balthasar passed away. Magdalena wept for a while and it is unknown how Balthasar felt.
During Balthasar’s trips around Lucca, Magdalena had to take a large part in Balthasar’s sales in Nuremberg. She had done so much work, it was almost as if they were partners! Balthasar’s business is primarily the selling of cloth and food. Various types of cheeses, fish, and growing seeds were among the most popular. In the 16 th century, Magdalena could not open her own business, she would have to do whatever Balthasar’s job was. “For a woman to become a baker, she had to marry a baker.
She was not allowed to participate in the apprenticeship system, though she could do everything in the shop her husband could” (Wiesner 304). One part of the business that requires a little manpower is the bill collecting. “On one occasion Balthasar urged Magdalena to seek the assistance of his brothers Jrg and Paul to collect delinquent peasant debts” (Ozment 73). While Balthasar is away, Magdalena also had to cope with the many problems of home ownership. “She completely refurbished their house, directing the work of potters, carpenters, plasterers, and glaziers” (74).
Not only was her business judgement high quality, but her motherly instincts were superior as well. When the Black Plague in 1585 hit, Magdalena made plans to move with their son, Little Balthasar when he was alive, to Altdorf for safety. She might not have had the proper schooling as a child, but she had1 a lot of common sense. In the olden days, before the “modern family era,” a typical household would be patriarchal, or ruled by paternal nature. The wife and children had to follow and believe in everything the father said.
Relationships did not last long due to frequent remarriage and personal relationships among family members. Interfamily marriage was illegal according to the church. Many members of a royal families did this because the wanted to keep the power in the same dynasty. The basis of today’s marriages rely on time together, love, and companionship. In the classic days, “women were the underclass, nowhere worse off than in marriage, where they became involuntary broom-sweeps and bearers of children” (161).
This quotation is not stating that there is no love in old marriages, but love in different ways. Yes, men had to leave the women for an extended amount of time, but it was for the making of money. Most trades, such as selling of goods and weaving, needed to have promotion outside the dealer’s hometown to spread business. Keeping in touch with family was not as hard as it sounded. Written letters could easily be mailed back and forth. Marriage today is almost different than marriage from the 16 th century.
For example, a man or woman could be the head of a household or sometimes neither of the two. A woman can hold a political office and be seen as a highly respected individual. This is a large step from just viewing women as property. Men can put up with a woman’s unkind behavior and not divorce or injury her just because he wants to. A couple can also have a child without having to be married.
Back in the 16th century, this was viewed as a sin. One of the main reasons for marrying a particular person in the old days was not for love, but for what the husband and the husband’s family could gain. Some of the larger treasures back then were land, gold, and rental hotels. Today’s equal analogy for this is when a young, attractive female in her mid-twenties just miraculously falls in love with an eighty-year-old man with fifty million dollars. When he dies, the widow will have a large estate in her name. Within the past four hundred years, various changes happened in the world, especially in romance.
Women have gone from being possessions to equals with the husband and even up to head of the household. Running a business, school, or law firm does not strike anyone as being odd for a woman. One thing that has not changed over time is that both husband and wife had to have some form of communication. Before technology became larger, hand written letters or telegrams seemed to be the most popular. In today’s world, most couples talk to one another when they get home from work.
When they never reach home, couples talk via pagers, cell phones, and e-mails. The intent is still nice, but the actual face-to-face contact is priceless. Bibliography Ozment, Stephen. Magdalena & Balthasar. London: Yale University Press, 1986 Wiesner, Mary.
“Nuns, Wives, and Mothers: Women and the Reformation in Germany.” Richard M. Golden. The Social Dimension of Western Civilization. Vol1 4th ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999.
Herlihy, David. “The Family in Renaissance Italy.” Richard M. Golden. The Social Dimension of Western Civilization. Vol1 4th ed.
New York: St. Martin’s, 1999.