The list is one of the greatest tools of the author, and is seldom used today. Modern writers have an ascetic tendency to search for the right word. Shakespeare was quite happy to let a mob of nouns run across the page whooping and screaming. Not that the list above is from Shakespeare. It's from Gabriel Harvey's Third Letter on Robert Greene, which makes up in fun for what it lacks in up-to-the-minute relevance.
I quote it here, not simply to demonstrate what a good list looks like, but also because of all the lovely and obscure words. So:
Ganymede was the cupbearer of the gods, and Zeus' bugger-boy. So by Ganymedes Harvey means catamites. This is a trifle counter-etymological as Ganymede's name seems to have originally come from ganyesthai medea, meaning rejoicing in virility.
Ganymede had been born mortal but was granted immortality and eternal youth by Zeus (in exchange for rights of his passage). Ganymede's brother Tithonus was also granted immortality, but not eternal youth, which is all the excuse I need to quote a bit of Tennyson's Tithonus:
The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quiet limit of the world,
A white-hair'd shadow roaming like a dream
The ever-silent spaces of the East,
Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.
Hermaphrodite in Harvey's time simply meant homosexual. It was someone who, as a contemporary put it, was "in sexe a man, & in heart a woman".
A Neronist is anybody who imitates the depravity of Nero. This takes in a fair amount of depravity and Neronists deserve top marks for effort. Nero was a transvestite, a ganymede, a hermaphrodite, a mother-killer and a Bad Singer. In the context, Harvey probably meant transvestite as that is the perversion that Nero had and other emperors didn't.
Nero had a cousin called Messalina who was the wife of the Emperor Claudius. However, she also screwed almost everybody in Rome. According to Juvenal, she set up her own brothel where she worked as an enthusiastic amateur (with "gilded nipples"). According to Pliny the Elder she challenged Rome's most notorious prostitute to see who could have sex the most times in 24 hours. Messalina won with a score of twenty five. Given all that, I'm sure you can work out what Messalinists might be.
Dodecomechanists are... well it should be obvious. Dodeco means twelve. Mechanist means either someone who makes things, or someone who believes in a mechanical theory of the universe. The OED has no entry for dodecomechanist or any similar word, so I have had to work it out myself.
I can't for the life of me see how twelve could have anything to do with sex. So I think that Harvey was referring to astrologers, more precisely to those astrologers who discount both God and free will, and attribute everything to the mechanism of the stars. You see there are twelve houses in Heaven. That is to say, the sky is divided into twelve parts in which influential stars can be ascendant or descendant.
The renaissance astrologer William Lilly said:
Capricians are not in the OED. They may be people who follow their caprices too much, but that seems rather weak in such a strong, bawdy, lecherous and ensemened list. Capricious simply means like a goat (as in capricorn) because goats are so whimsical. Given the context - the ganymedes and messalinists - I shall take a guess that capricians are those who like goats rather too vigorously.
So the whole list reads: Catamites, homosexuals, transvestites, sexually confident women, star-gazing atheists, and goat-shaggers.
Fie on them all indeed. Now I'm off to invent some new and revive some old lecheries.
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