. . .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 (“abandon all hope”).