Magdalena & 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