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“Magdalena and Balthasar” by Steven Ozment’s Essay

In the story Magdalena and Balthasar by Steven Ozment’s, one is able to reconstruct the lifestyle of a sixteenth-century merchant family that lived in Europe. The life styles specifically shown in Magdalena and Balthasar’s relationship was anything but an average lifestyle. Although the couple dealt with many problems such as the separation due to business, they were able to keep their marriage stable through letters. In these letters one is able to uncover their beliefs about their family life, marriage, parenting, and the affects religion had on them. Although this specific couple had a unique relationship, one could come to some understanding of how a medieval persons’ life was lived.

When analyzing pieces from these letters, one could conclude that marriage had to be filled with love, admiration, and cooperation to be successful. Given the role in 16th century society, the husband was the dominant figure and the wife was left with the household duties and children. However, some relationships were ahead of their times and was based solely on reciprocated compassion. If this bond could be achieved it brought a sense of equality in the understanding and responsibility of a marriage. The growing love in a marriage relationship was hard to accomplish. Whether the marriage was based on the similar backgrounds, or mutual feelings about equality, a successful marriage had to be worked on.

Many merchants at this time were extremely involved with their work. This meant that when work called they had to reply. If the job took the husband out of town the best way to maintain their relationship was through letters. Although it was hard to keep in touch there were many ways that they could communicate their love.

Another aspect that was seen in the medieval time period was the way in which the people expressed their love. In the relationship between Magdalena and Balthazar, Magdalena uses special valued objects in her letters in order to express her love. An example is when “she folds flowers from their garden into her letters to him”(Ozment 28). Likewise, Balthasar expressed his love for Magdalena through his unique writing style. In his letters he was able to express his love through simple words such as “honest, good, true, friendly, dearest, closest bride”(Ozment 28). It can be observed that the common attribute of expressing love in their relationship was not only limited to their relationship specifically, rather it applies to most sixteenth-century relationships.

Although Love was a major attribute in relationships trust was another strong hold point of the everyday family lifestyle of this time. There had to be a strong supporting trust from each side of the relationship in order for the family to prevail. For instance, when the couple was separated the husband would have to have a deep sincere trust for the wife to maintain his business at home. The wife would have chores such as, tending to the children, keeping the household running, and other business related tasks. Although it was common for the women to do so anyways, the husband had to rely and trust his wife to take care of these dealing without second thought.

Although the husband had to give up allot of responsibility when he was away for work, normally he would not give up the whole authoritative power. For example in a disagreement usually their would be some sort of compromise, but in the end the wife would give in to the big decisions allowing the husband to have authority. The equilibrium between trust and negotiation that was seen in sixteen-century relationships shows how a sense of stability that was formed in their family lifestyles.

Parenting in this time period was dealt with by different methods, which were determined by the different marital roles. The primary differences come from their choice of style that was inherited from their forefathers. The wife is usually the consoling and sympathetic parent, while the father was usually the stern and punitive parent. The father had to deal with his parenting from a different town at times, which led to less interactive correction strategies. When a demand from the father was made to the child, the child would usually meet the request without question. Although the wife respects the husband’s requests she usually sympathized for her son, showing an amount of protection, by lessening the demands.

The most similar parenting style between the two is their love for their son.

Although the teaching methods were different from parent to parent, the child usually received a decent education, housing, adequate food, to fulfill his needs. The love and support from both the mother and the father is astonishing and overall should result in a prudent child.

Religion is a very important aspect of sixteenth-century life among medieval individuals. A common belief was that God was involved in their family life and was in absolute control. “They think of God as an absolutely omnipotent being, who controls human destiny on earth and into eternity…”(Ozment 144). If there were unfortunate dealing such as sickness or substantial loss in a business deal, it was believed to be “an obvious punishment of God”(Ozment 144).

Religion was also tied into the lives of medieval people by the incorporation of it into their marriages. The medieval people relied on the God given supremacy of the husband’s role for leadership in the family’s prosperity.

Parenting techniques also resulted from their Christianity belief. The disciplinary actions of each role in the family originated from the history of Christianity. Even though these teachings seemed strict they closely adhered to them in order to adhere to their beliefs.

The particular dealings with Magdalena and Balthazar gave and exclusive illustration of the life of a sixteenth-century family. It also exposed the hardships of the medieval time period. Magdalena and Balthazar gave a significant portrait into how a person in the sixteenth century dealt with the everyday attributes of marriage, parenting, family life, and the affects religion had upon them.

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