Ozment's book, I found it to be a useful glimpse into the daily life of a 16th century couple. I am writing a historical novel set during these times, and such personalized, intimate and first hand translated source material is critical to the accuracy of my novel. Ozment's book gives us a look at how people really lived, what they said, what they thought, and what they wore, and therefore for this reason the book is indeed historically significant.
That continues to be true, but only partly. Now these letters, translated, arranged, edited, and illuminated by a creative and well-informed scholar, provide the American reader with a window into everyday life four centuries ago.
Magdalena Behaim and Balthasar Paumgartner belonged to prominent merchant families in one of the most bustling European cities north of the Alps.
In the twentieth century, the name Nuremberg calls to mind visions of endless columns of marching Nazis, of laws which institutionalized racist prejudices, and of post-World War II trials that sought justice.
The city had some thirty-five thousand inhabitants at the time, and the rosters of its councils contained the family names Behaim and Paumgartner again and again.
Yet when Magdalena and Balthasar were betrothed inneither was in a position of great wealth or power. Throughout their lives they remained solidly middle class, she a wife and mother, he a merchant traveling each year to market fairs in Italy and the German states, striking deal after deal to keep the family business going.
Whenever he was away, the two corresponded regularly, leaving a fascinating though tantalizingly incomplete record of themselves and their world. The reader sees them first as a young couple in love, then as business partners, as parents of a child in declining health, and finally as aging adults seeking to avoid illness and to maintain a proper relationship with their God in the Lutheran faith.
He has numerous scholarly books and articles to his credit; this one seems to be intended more for leisure reading. Indeed, it might make a very nice wedding gift.
Of the letters in the German original, he publishes only fourteen in their entirety. From the others there are fragments where they are meaningful to the story he tells. There is no index. The scholarly apparatus is discretely understated in unnumbered back notes. Simon and Schuster has printed and bound the book in such a way as to give it a modest but special attractiveness.
It is no glossy coffee-table book, but, with its occasional sixteenth century prints and manuscript facsimiles, it is a publication of genuine quality. Nuremberg struck a commemorative medallion for Balthasar upon his death. Magdalena had unusual ability. The entire section is 1, words.
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Steven Ozment is McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History at Harvard University. He has taught Western Civilization at Yale, Stanford, and Harvard. () won the Schaff Prize and was nominated for the American Book Award.
Magdalena and Balthasar: An Intimate Portrait of Life in Sixteenth Century Volume 1 of The Western. 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.
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