. . .through me you enter into the city of woes
through me you enter into eternal pain,
through me you enter the population of loss.
. . .
abandon all hope, you who enter here.
Dante reads these lines, which he finds
inscribed on the Gate of Hell, as he and Virgil pass into the Ante-Inferno
before the river Acheron in Canto III (III.1–7).
These lines may be said to represent the voice of Hell, as they
declare its nature, origin, and purpose, and thus pave the way for
what is to come throughout the poem. First, the inscription portrays
Hell as a city, which defines much of the geography of the poem—Hell
is a geographically contained area bound by walls and containing
a vast population of souls. Hell is thus a grotesque counterpart
to Heaven, which Virgil describes as the city of God. Second, the
inscription portrays Hell as a place of eternal woes, pain, and
loss, situating it as the center of God’s strict punishment of sinners,
a place from which there is supposed to be no escape (“