Melissus of Samos

Melissus Of Samos, a Greek philosopher, was born at Samos, and flourished in the 5th century (about 444) before Christ. It is said that he was not less distinguished as a citizen than as a philosopher, and that he commanded the fleet of his country during its insurrection against Athens. Melissus seems to have been the disciple of Parmenides; he studied at least the writings of the philosophers of the Eleatic school, and adopted their doctrines in a modified form; or, as one has it, "He took up the letter rather than the spirit of their system." He made his opinions known in a work written in Ionic prose, probably entitled Of Being and of Nature. He treated not of the infinite variety of things produced or engendered, but of eternal nature considered abstractly, apart from all concrete things, and, like Parmenides, called it being. Simplicius has preserved some fragments of this treatise, and the author (Aristotle or Theophrastus) of the book on Melissus, Xenophanes, and Gorgias, has made its doctrines well known. Melissus taught the same system of idealism as did the leaders of the Eleatic school, Xenophanes and Parmenides,'but he is characterized by greater boldness in his way of stating it, and in some respects by profounder views. What really existed, he maintained, could neither be produced nor perish; it exists without having either commencement or end; infinite (differing in this respect from Parmenides), and consequently one; invariable, not composed of parts, and indivisible: which doctrine implies a denial of the existence of bodies, and of the dimensions of space. All that our senses present to us (that is to say, the greater part of things which exist) is nothing more than an appearance relative to our senses (τὸ ἐν ἡμῖν), and is altogether beyond the limits of real knowledge. He thus made the first though weak attempt, which was afterwards carried out by Zeno with far more acuteness and sagacity, to prove that the foundations of all knowledge derived from experience are in themselves contradictory, and that the reality of the actual world is inconceivable. As for the relation between real existence and the Deity, we are ignorant of the sentiments of Melissus on this head;

for what is reported by Diogenes Laertius (ix. 24) can be considered as relating only to the popular notions. Some important fragments of Melissus have been collected by Brandis in the first part of the Commentationum Eleaticarum, pars prima, p. 185 sq., and by M. Mullach in his excellent edition of the treatise Aristotelis de Melisso, Xenophane, et Gorgia, Disputationes, cum Eleaticorum philosophorum fragmentis (Berlin, 1846). The same editor inserts them in the Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum of the Didot collection (1860, 8vo). See Diogenes Laertius, 9:24; Plutarch, Pericles, p. 26, 27; Simplicius, In Arist. Phys. de Celo.; Ritter, Gesch. der Philosophie, vol. i; Tenneman's Manual of Philosophy, p. 68, 69; Smith, Dict. of Class. Biog. s.v.; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale, s.v.

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