Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Melissus of Samos

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From volume 10 of the work.

A Greek philosopher, of the Eleatic School, b. at Samos about 470 B C. It is probable that he was a disciple of Parmenides, and that he is identical with the Melissus who, according to Plutarch (Pericles, 26), commanded the Samian fleet which defeated the Athenians off the coast of Samos in 442. He wrote a work which is variously entitled peri tou ontos, peri physeos, etc., and of which only a few fragments have come down to us. In attempting to combine the doctrines of Parmenides with those of the earliest philosophers of Greece (see ), Melissus, through he fell into many contradictions, forestalled, in a sense, Aristotle's more successful effort to define the infinite and the incorporeal. Like Parmenides, he depreciated sense-knowledge, and held that change, motion, and multiplicity are illusions. At the same time, he was influenced by the Ionians, especially by Heraclitus, to attach value to the question of origins. He definitely predicates infinity of being, and assets that reality "has no body". By the infinite he understands "that which has neither beginning nor end", and in his conception of "that which has no body", he does not, as Aristotle points out (Metaph. I, 5, 986 b.) attain a correct understanding of the immaterial. The physical doctrines ascribed to Melissus by Philoponus, Stoboeus, Epiphanius,, and others do not seem to have been held by him. There is, however, a possibility that, as Diogenes Laërtius informs us, Melissus avoided all mention of the gods because we can know nothing about them. Like Plato, Aristotle, and some of the other Greek philosopher, he probably thought it wisest to take refuge in a profession of ignorance regarding the gods, so as to avoid the imputation of hostility to the popular mythology.

FAIRBANKS, First Philosophers of Greece (New York, 1898), 120 sq., gives fragments of Melissus's work, with translations of references to him in Aristotle, Epiphanius, etc.; PABST, De Melissi fragmentis (Bonn, 1880); KERN, Zur Wurdigung des Melissus (Stettin, 1880); ZELLER, Pro-Socratic Philosophy, tr. ALLEYNE, I (Lond., 1881), 627 sq.; TANNERY, Pour l'histoire de la science hellene (Paris, 1887), 262 sq.; TURNER, History of Philosophy (Boston, 1903), 51 sq.