Annotations to James Joyce's Ulysses/Scylla and Charybdis/180
limbo patrum In Catholic theology, Limbo is the name for a place or state occupied by the souls of those who have not been admitted to Heaven but who have not merited the eternal damnation of Hell. The name comes from the Latin expression in limbo, meaning on the border, as Limbo was imagined to form the borderland of Hell.
In theological usage the name is applied to (a) the temporary place or state of the souls of the just who, although purified from sin, were excluded from the beatific vision until Christ's triumphant ascension into Heaven (the limbus patrum or border of the fathers) or (b) to the permanent place or state of those unbaptized children and others who, dying without grievous personal sin, are excluded from the beatific vision on account of original sin alone (the limbus infantium or limbus puerorum, border of infants or border of children).
The Fathers, Patres, are specifically the Patriarchs of the Old Testament, the righteous men and women who were not admitted to Heaven until Christ's Harrowing of Hell. Stephen's use of the term, therefore, is theologically incorrect, as the soul of Hamlet's father would have had no business being in limbo patrum.
In Elizabethan England, however, Limbo Patrum was a slang term for prison. The phrase occurs in Shakespeare and Fletcher's play Henry VIII 5:4:67-68: I have some of 'em in Limbo Patrum, and there they are like to dance these three days;. In the same scene Paris is held up as an exemplar of corruption.