Melissus of Samos

Life and Work

Melissus of Samos (fl. 5th c. BC), after Parmenides and Zeno, is the third important thinker of the Eleatic movement. Except of a philosopher, he was a naval commander, famous for his victories especially against the Athenians in 441 BC. He wrote one philosophical book in prose from which only ten fragment survive,  thanks to Simplicius

Theory of Being

Melissus was a follower of Parmenidesí thought but not in all its details. On the one hand, Melissus agrees with Parmenidesí main arguments on the indestructibility, immobility, indivisibility, oneness, completeness, changelessness and perfection of Being. On the other, he adopts a different viewpoint on the Parmenidean timelessness and finitude of Being. Melissus understood non-being in terms of spatial emptiness.  Since non-being is impossible as an enclosing limit, then Being is limitless. Thus, while Parmenidesí Being is timeless in finitude, Melissusí Being is everlasting in infinitum.

Senses and Body

Melissus refutes the reliability of sense-perception. Since our senses record constant change and change is impossible then the sensible observations and data are untrustworthy or even illusionary. More extremely Melissus denies the existence of body. Space is full, homogenous and without parts. Since there is no space to differentiate a distinct unity then the body cannot have a distinct character. So body cannot have a distinct existence within unlimited extension.


1. What was always was, and always shall be. For, if it came into being, necessarily, before its generation, there was nothing; so, if there were nothing, nothing at all would come from nothing.

2. Since then it did not come into being, it is and always was and always shall be, and has neither beginning nor end, but is without limit. For if it had come into being, it would have a beginning (for it would have begun to come into being at some time) and an end (for it would have stopped coming into being at some time); but, since it neither began nor ended, it always was and shall be and has no beginning nor end; for it is impossible for what is not entire to be always.

 3.  But as it always is, so it is also without limit in extent.

 4.  No thing that has both beginning and end is eternal or without limit.

 5. If it were not one thing, it would limit some other thing.

 6. For if it were without limit, it would be one; for if there were two, they could not be without limit, one would limit the other.   

 7. (i) So therefore it is eternal and without limit and one and a homogenous whole.

(ii) And it cannot pass away or become greater or change its arrangement or feel pain or be distressed; for if it could suffer any of these it would not still be one. For if it were to change, what there is could not be homogenous, but what is in front would pass away, and what dies not exist would come into existence. If therefore it were to become different by as much as a single hair in ten thousand years, it would pass away in the whole of time.

(iii) And it is impossible for there to be a change in arrangement; for the kosmos which was before does not pass away, nor does one which is not come into existence. And since nothing at all is added or passes away or is altered how can there be a change of kosmos? for if it became different in any way, immediately there would be a change in kosmos .

(iv) And it does not feel pain; for a thing in pain could not be exist for ever; and it does not have power equal to the healthy; and if it were in pain it would not be homogenous; fr it would feel pain from the loss or addition of something, and would be no longer homogenous.

(v) And the healthy could not feel pain, for then the healthy, what there is, would pass away, and what is not would come to be.

(vi) And the same argument applies to distress as to pain.

(vii) And it is not empty at all; for what is empty is nothing, and then what is nothing could not be.

(viii) And it does not move; for it cannot retreat in any direction, but it is full. For if it were empty it would retreat into the empty; but since the empty does not exist, it has nowhere to retreat to.

(ix) And it would not be dense and rare; for it is not possible for what is rare to be full in the same way as what is dense, but the rare of course is emptier than the dense.

(x) And this distinction must be made between what is full and what is not full: if it retreats or takes in anything it is not full, but if it does not retreat or take in anything it is full.

(xi) So it must be full, since there is no empty. If then it is full, it does not move.      

 8. This argument then provides the strongest proof that it is one only; but there are these proofs as well:

(i) If there were many things they would have to be such as I say the one is. For if there is earth and water and air and fire and iron and gold, and one living and another dead, and again black and white and all the other things that people say are real, if indeed there are these, and we see and hear correctly, each must be such as we first decided, and they cannot change or become different, but each is always as it is.

(ii) But as it is we say that we do see and hear and perceive correctly, and yet it seems to us that the hot becomes cold and the cold hot, and the hard becomes soft and the soft hard, and the living dies and there is birth from what is not living, and all these things change around and what a thing was and what it is now are not at all the same, but iron, which is hard, is rubbed away by contact with the finger, and also gold and stone and whatever seems to us to be strong, and from water come earth and stone [so it happens that we don't see or understand what there is.]

 9. So if it exists it must be one; and being one it could not have body. If it had thickness it would have parts, and would no longer be one.

 10. If what exists is divided, it moves: and if it moves it would not exist.

Translation M. R. Wright


Copyright 1997-2006

Giannis Stamatellos






  Writings and Sources

  Mythological Origins

  Pherecydes of Syros


  Thales of Miletus
  Anaximander of Miletus
  Anaximenes of Miletus

  Heraclitus of Ephesus
  Xenophanes of Colophon

  Pythagoras of Samos
  Philolaus of Croton
  Archytas of Tarantum
  Alcmaeon of Croton


  Parmenides of Elea
  Zeno of Elea
  Melissus of Samos

Empedocles of Acragas
  Anaxagoras of Klazomenes
  Democritus of Abdera