Writing a Catastrophe. Describing and Constructing Disaster Perception in Narrative Sources from the Late Middle Ages
Historical Social Research, Vol. 32 — 2007 — No. 3, 88-102
»Eine Katastrophe schreiben. Zur Schilderung und Konstruktion von Katastrophenwahrnehmung in erzäh- lenden Quellen des Spätmittelalters«. The perception of natural hazards as catastrophes is specific to humanity. In textual sources of the Late Middle Ages, a representation of catastrophic events is evident through the use of language and stylistic elements. Imitations of biblical depictions of catastrophes, such as the plague of
locusts, serve to evoke interpretations of a coming apocalypse or punishment by God. Floods are presented as catastrophic through “canonized” motifs in reports of destroyed bridges, flooded church buildings or through the consideration present in the text that the event was worse than any in living memory. Artistic and artificial hyperbolisms are especially frequent in educated early humanistic literature that depicts an event with reference to historical or literary examples. The actual extent of such “constructed” catastrophes is only capable of being estimated through a comparison with other contemporary descriptions of the event.