Melissus of Samos

5th-century BC Greek Eleatic philosopher

Melissus of Samos (Greek: Μέλισσος; fl. fifth century BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher, the third and last member of the ancient school of Eleatic philosophy, whose other members included Zeno and Parmenides.

What was was ever, and ever shall be.
So then it is eternal and infinite and one and all alike.
Nor is anything empty:  For what is empty is nothing.  What is nothing cannot be.
[N]othing is stronger than true reality.


Translated 1920 by John Burnet.
  • Καὶ Μέλισσος δὲ τὸ ἀγένητον τοῦ ὄντος ἔδειξε τῶι κοινῶι τούτωι χρησάμενος ἀξιώματι· γράφει δὲ οὕτως·

    ᾿ἀεὶ ἦν ὅ τι ἦν καὶ ἀεὶ ἔσται.  Εἰ γὰρ ἐγένετο, ἀναγκαῖόν ἐστι πρὶν γενέσθαι εἶναι μηδέν· εἰ τοίνυν μηδὲν ἦν, οὐδαμὰ ἂν γένοιτο οὐδὲν ἐκ μηδενός᾿.

    • What was was ever, and ever shall be.  For, if it had come into being, it needs must have been nothing before it came into being.  Now, if it were nothing, in no wise could anything have arisen out of nothing.
  • Οὕτως οὖν ἀίδιόν ἐστι καὶ ἄπειρον καὶ ἓν καὶ ὅμοιον πᾶν.
  • Οὐδ᾿ ἂν τὸ ὑγιὲς ἀλγῆσαι δύναιτο· ἀπὸ γὰρ ἂν ὄλοιτο τὸ ὑγιὲς καὶ τὸ ἐόν, τὸ δὲ οὐκ ἐὸν γένοιτο.  Καὶ περὶ τοῦ ἀνιᾶσθαι ὡυτὸς λόγος τῶι ἀλγέοντι.  Οὐδὲ κενεόν ἐστιν οὐδέν· τὸ γὰρ κενεὸν οὐδέν ἐστιν· οὐκ ἂν οὖν εἴη τό γε μηδέν.  Οὐδὲ κινεῖται· ὑποχωρῆσαι γὰρ οὐκ ἔχει οὐδαμῆι, ἀλλὰ πλέων ἐστίν.  Εἰ μὲν γὰρ κενεὸν ἦν, ὑπεχώρει ἂν εἰς τὸ κενόν· κενοῦ δὲ μὴ ἐόντος οὐκ ἔχει ὅκηι ὑποχωρήσει.
    • Nor is anything empty:  For what is empty is nothing.  What is nothing cannot be.

      Nor does it move; for it has nowhere to betake itself to, but is full.  For if there were aught empty, it would betake itself to the empty.  But, since there is naught empty, it has nowhere to betake itself to.

  • Τοῦ γὰρ ἐόντος ἀληθινοῦ κρεῖσσον οὐδέν.

Quotes about Melissus

  • Together with his victory and pursuit, having made himself master of the port, he laid siege to the Samians, and blocked them up, who yet, one way or another, still ventured to make sallies, and fight under the city walls.  But after that another greater fleet from Athens was arrived, and that the Samians were now shut up with a close leaguer on every side, Pericles, taking with him sixty galleys, sailed out into the main sea, with the intention, as most authors give the account, to meet a squadron of Phoenician ships that were coming for the Samians' relief, and to fight them at as great distance as could be from the island; but, as Stesimbrotus says, with a design of putting over to Cyprus, which does not seem to be probable.  But, whichever of the two was his intention, it seems to have been a miscalculation.  For on his departure, Melissus, the son of Ithagenes, a philosopher, being at that time the general in Samos, despising either the small number of the ships that were left or the inexperience of the commanders, prevailed with the citizens to attack the Athenians.  And the Samians having won the battle, and taken several of the men prisoners, and disabled several of the ships, were masters of the sea, and brought into port all necessaries they wanted for the war, which they had not before.  Aristotle says, too, that Pericles had been once before this worsted by this Melissus in a sea-fight.  …  Pericles, as soon as news was brought him of the disaster that had befallen his army, made all the haste he could to come in to their relief, and having defeated Melissus, who bore up against him, and put the enemy to flight, he immediately proceeded to hem them in with a wall, resolving to master them and take the town, rather with some cost and time than with the wounds and hazards of his citizens.
  • Melissus seems to infer that what really exists must be permanent and immutable, because it is too tough to pass away, and all change involves the destruction of a previous state of being.  The argument depends upon investigating what we mean by saying something is real or existsPermanence, Melissus suggests, is part of the concept of truth or existence.  Is that so?  How would we check up?
    • Catherine Osborne, "Reality and appearance: more adventures in metaphysics", ch. 4 of Presocratic Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (2004).
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Ancient Greek schools of philosophy
Pre-Socratic AnaxagorasAnaximanderAnaximenesDemocritusEmpedoclesHeraclitusLeucippusMelissusParmenidesProtagorasPythagorasThalesZeno of Elea
Socratic AntisthenesAristippusAristotleDiogenes of SinopeEuclid of MegaraPhaedo of ElisPlatoSocrates
Hellenistic Apollonius of TyanaAugustineEpictetusEpicurusJohn PhiloponusLucretiusPlotinusProclusPyrrhoSextus EmpiricusZeno of Citium