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Melissus (mid or late 5th century BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A070-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

Article Summary

Melissus was a Greek philosopher from the island of Samos. A second-generation representative of Eleatic metaphysics, he published one work, entitled On Nature or On That-Which-Is, which has been partially reconstructed by editors. It defends a version of Parmenides’ monism, but recast with terminology and arguments directly accessible to a readership schooled in the eastern Greek (Ionian) style of physical speculation, as distinct from Parmenides’ western Greek background. Although it is uncertain how important Melissus was to his own contemporaries, his prosaic but clear presentation of Eleatic concepts was more widely adopted by later writers than the enigmatic pronouncements of Parmenides.

Melissus argues that that-which-is is: (1) omnitemporal; (2) infinite in extent; (3) one; (4) homogeneous; (5) changeless, that is, without (a) reordering, (b) pain, (c) grief or (d) motion; (6) indivisible; and (7) bodiless. Here (1) – ‘it always was what it was, and always will be’ – is a departure from Parmenides, who had outlawed past and future in favour of a static present. Likewise (2) contrasts with Parmenides’ defence of spatially finite being. The remaining predicates are consonant with Parmenides, although (5) b–c suggest that the being Melissus has in mind is a living one, presumably a deity – an aspect not brought out by Parmenides. Melissus wrote ‘If there were many things, they ought to be such as I say the One is’ – a remark sometimes thought to have inspired his contemporaries the atomists.

Citing this article:
Sedley, David. Melissus (mid or late 5th century BC), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A070-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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