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Melissus of Samos

Melissus, son of Ithagenes, was a pre-Socratic philosopher and one of the representatives, along with Zenon of Elaea, of the Eleatic school.

He was born on the Greek island of Samos around the fifth century B.C. There are not many historical records about his life, but it is known that he was an experienced sailor, even commanding the Samos squadron to defeat the Athenians in 440 B.C. Furthermore, Melissus was also a politician.

Works

Melissus of Samos’ main work is called On Nature, also known as On Being.

It is a prose poem in which he mainly defends Parmenides’ theory of being. However, only a few fragments remain of this work.

Melissus’ main ideas

On Being

Melissus defended the philosophical doctrine of the Eleatic school, whose main representative was Parmenides, and whose main thesis was that being was immobile and one.

In one of the fragments of his work, Melissus states:

[Being] always was what it was and always will be, because if it had been generated, before being generated it would be nothing. But if nothing was, nothing could be generated from nothing.

Therefore, for him, it would be absurd to affirm that being had an origin in time. Being is eternal and one, always was and always will be, without beginning or end. Being is unlimited.

In view of all this, it follows that our senses are not reliable, because they seem to show us that in the world there are changes, generation and corruption of beings, as well as the multiplicity of beings. All sense data, therefore, is illusory.

However, Melissus sought to improve and correct some points of the Parmenidean theory of being.

Parmenides argued that being is finite and limited. Melissus, on the contrary, claimed that being is infinite, since it has no spatial or temporal limits.

Melissus asserts that being is One, for if there were two, it could not be infinite, for one would be limited by the other.

He also affirms that the one-infinite being is incorporeal, but not in the sense of being immaterial, but in the sense that the being does not have any figure that limits or determines the bodies. He says in one of the fragments:

If the being is, it must be one. If it is one, it must have no body. If it has thickness, the being would have parts and would no longer be one.

The being does not suffer pain, says Melissus, because if it suffered pain it would not always be and would not possess the strength of the healthy.

In summary, Melissus holds that being is:

  • eternal;
  • one;
  • limitless;
  • ungenerated, without beginning or end, indestructible;
  • homogeneous
  • immovable: does not change
  • does not suffer pain;

On emptiness

In his work, Melissus also defends that emptiness does not exist, since conceptually, emptiness is nothing, and that which is nothing cannot exist. Emptiness also does not move, since it has no place to move to, because it is full.

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