Disasters and catastrophes are considered here through forms of response that primarily relate to the capacity of late medieval and early modern Italian societies to place calamities in a realm of collective understanding through language, literature or philosophy. The interpretive tension that we observe throughout these centuries unfolds through an extreme variety of rhetorical-literary forms, which are fertile ground for hermeneutic and formal experimentation. If, in addition to presenting considerable practical and technical challenges, disasters should also be understood as social and cultural constructions, then we need to search in the history of language, literature and, more broadly, of thought, for the innovations, breakthroughs and evolutions that are an integral part of the history of late medieval and modern societies. The dossier presents a diachronic path, in which the case of Naples and southern Italy occupies a special place (in the wake of the European research programme DisCompose), and resonates with a wider perspective which, besides the natural phenomena themselves, encompasses the whole of Italian history. The various case studies therefore highlight the discursive nature of disaster (under rhetorical, linguistic and formal aspects) and how it is rooted in a hermeneutic soil specific to a given period and geographical area. They also raise the question of the existence of a catastrophe paradigm that might be at work in the Italian culture of those centuries and constitute a specific feature thereof.