Melissus of Samos - Biography
Melissus of Samos is noted to have been born around 470 BCE in Samos. The year of his death is unknown. He was a Greek philosopher. After Parmenides and Zeno, he is generally considered to be the third and last important member of the Eleatic school. Not much is known about his life. It is believed that Melissus was a student of both Parmenides and Heraclitus. Besides his philosophical work he gained a reputation as the naval commander of the Samian fleet that defeated the Athenians around 441/440 BCE.
Melissus is the author of one known treatise, On Nature or What Exists, of which only ten fragments survived. These were, for the most part, preserved by the Aristotelian commentator Simplicius. Though the aim of this treatise is mainly to expand and defend Parmenides' central arguments on concepts such as indivisibility, immobility, indestructibility, unchangeability and the oneness of Being, Melissus also adds several altering ideas of his own.
To begin with, Melissus challenges the Parmenidean notion of Being as a timeless entity. Whereas for Parmenides Being is limited, for Melissus Being is unlimited, infinite. He argues that Being has neither a beginning nor an end; it must be eternal. Following, Melissus then employs this notion to time and space. Infinite themselves, they need to be related to that which does not change. What is, is temporally and spatially unlimited; due to its infinite character, nothing else can exist neither at the same nor at a different time. If something else existed, both would be limited. But for the One to be, it has to be infinite, for only what is infinite can be as One. Being, thus, is a(s) unity: What is, is (as) One, as only one thing can be.
As a result, Melissus considers empty space to be impossible. What is empty is not. And just as Being cannot begin from nothing, it cannot have a beginning. Because it has no beginning, it will not end. Because it has neither beginning nor end, it is eternal and without limit. Given its eternality, there cannot be motion, as this would either imply the materialization of some Being that had not existed before or a vanishing of what is.
What is the One does not change, for whatever is altered is not a whole. If Being is One, it does not have a body, as a body would have parts. Consequently, this leads Melissus to negate the existence of the body as such, which, because of its parts, is denied an existence of unlimited extension. Since it is impossible for Being to become or vanish into non-being, it can thus not be destructed. If the One were destructed or divided, it would be fragmented, it would move, and what moves does not exist. Being unchangeable, the eternal Being, Melissus concludes, is immaterial.
A truly Eleatic philosopher, Melissus does not believe in sense perception. As our senses are exposed to constant change, which in itself is impossible, they merely provide us with some images, and not with the real world itself. As each thing must remain the same, our senses, perceiving things such as water, air, and fire as ever changing and manifold, are wrong—for that which is does not change. There is nothing outside Being; if it changed, it would not be. Reality, then, eludes our senses; what we sense is not real, what is real, cannot be sensed.
Though arguably the least famous among the Eleatic philosophers, it is widely assumed that Melissus’ treatise had a direct influence on atomism. Moreover, and most likely due to his more accessible prose rather then poetry, the treatise also served as a main source of Eleatic philosophy for both Plato and Aristotle, although the latter, highly critical of the Eleatics in general, considered him to be rather simpleminded.