“Justice incited my divine Creator;
Created me divine Omnipotence,
The highest Wisdom and the primal Love…”
These words that appear over the entrance to Hell and famously end with “All hope abandon, ye who enter in!” indicate that God was compelled by justice to create Hell. Omnipotence, wisdom, and love are characteristics associated with the three aspects of the Holy Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Thus, the message is clear: God created Hell as a place for those who, according to justice, deserve such punishment.
“… ready are they to pass o’er the river,
Because celestial Justice spurs them on,
So that their fear is turned into desire.”
Virgil is describing the sight he and Dante see as they first enter the precincts of Hell: many newly dead, naked souls weeping and cursing their situation. These souls might not want to cross the river Acheron, which leads into Hell, but they are compelled to do so by divine justice. They curse God and their fate, and as they cry tears of bitterness, Charon gathers them onto his ferry. Virgil comments that the damned acquiesce to divine justice and recognize their rightful place in Hell.
Justice of God, ah! Who heaps up so many
New toils and sufferings as I beheld?
And why doth our transgression waste us so?
Dante observes the sufferings of the sinners in the fourth circle of Hell, where avarice, or greed, is punished alongside its opposite—prodigality, or wastefulness. As is often the case in The Inferno, the punishment described by Dante either directly or metaphorically relates to the crime. In this scene, the two sets of sinners punish each other for their equal but opposite sins by rolling weights at each other. Dante is struck by the sheer number of sinners who are guilty of these two particular transgressions and how pointless such sins seem.
“Clearly wilt thou perceive why from these felons
They separated are, and why less wroth
Justice divine doth smite them with its hammer.”
Virgil references Aristotle’s Ethicsin explaining to Dante the three sinful “dispositions” of “Incontinence, Malice, and Insane Bestiality.” Incontinence is a category of sin involving lack of self-control, while the other two categories of sin require deliberate effort. Based on the organization of Dante’s Hell, the sins of incontinence, which include gluttony, wrath, and lust, are less serious than malice and what Dante calls “Insane Bestiality” to refer to man’s inhumanity to man. As a result, those who commit incontinence are not punished inside Dis, the city of Hell, but rather outside of the city in the first five circles.
Wholly bewildered by the mighty anguish
Which he has suffered, and in looking sighs….
Justice of God! O how severe it is…
Dante responds to witnessing a sinner being punished for thieving in the seventh Bolgia, or ditch, of the eighth circle. First, the thief is caught by serpents. Next, he is burned to ashes. Finally, the thief is reconstituted back into his original human form, forcing him to realize the place where he is, the fate he is suffering, and the duration of his punishment that will repeat again and again for eternity. Dante feels particular pity for this sinner because of the “anguish” and confusion he observes on the man’s face as he returns to his bodily form. However, Dante still understands that the punishment is God’s justice.