Fragments of Melissus

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Fragments of Melissus  (1920) 
by Melissus of Samos, translated by John Burnet

Fragments of Melissus

The fragments which we have come from Simplicius, and are given, with the exception of the first, from the text of Diels.[1]

(1a) If nothing is, what can be said of it as of something real?[2]

(1) 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. R. P. 142.

(2) Since, then, it has not come into being, and since it is, was ever, and ever shall be, it has no beginning or end, but is without limit. For, if it had come into being, it would have had a beginning (for it would have begun to come into being at some time or other) and an end (for it would have ceased to come into being at some time or other); but, if it neither began nor ended, and ever was and ever shall be, it has no beginning or end; for it is not possible for anything to be ever without all being. R. P. 143.

(3) Further, just as it ever is, so it must ever be infinite in magnitude. R. P. 143.

(4) But nothing which has a beginning or end is either eternal or infinite. R. P. 143.

(5) If it were not one, it would be bounded by something else. R. P. 144 a.

(6) For if it is (infinite), it must be one; for if it were two, it could not be infinite; for then they would be bounded by one another.[3]

(6a) (And, since it is one, it is alike throughout; for if it were unlike, it would be many and not one.)[4]

(7) So then it is eternal and infinite and one and all alike. And it cannot perish nor become greater, nor does it suffer pain or grief. For, if any of these things happened to it, it would no longer be one. For if it is altered, then the real must needs not be all alike, but what was before must pass away, and what was not must come into being. Now, if it changed by so much as a single hair in ten thousand years, it would all perish in the whole of time.

Further, it is not possible either that its order should be changed; for the order which it had before does not perish, nor does that which was not come into being. But, since nothing is either added to it or passes away or is altered, how can any real thing have had its order changed? For if anything became different, that would amount to a change in its order.

Nor does it suffer pain; for a thing in pain could not all be. For a thing in pain could not be ever, nor has it the same power as what is whole. Nor would it be alike, if it were in pain; for it is only from the addition or subtraction of something that it could feel pain, and then it would no longer be alike. Nor could what is whole feel pain; for then what was whole and what was real would pass away, and what was not would come into being. And the same argument applies to grief as to pain.

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.

And it cannot be dense and rare; for it is not possible for what is rare to be as full as what is dense, but what is rare is at once emptier than what is dense.

This is the way in which we must distinguish between what is full and what is not full. If a thing has room for anything else, and takes it in, it is not full; but if it has no room for anything and does not take it in, it is full.

Now, it must needs be full if there is naught empty, and if it is full, it does not move. R. P. 145.

(8) This argument, then, is the greatest proof that it is one alone; but the following are proofs of it also. If there were a many, these would have to be of the same kind as I say that the one is. For if there is earth and water, and air and iron, and gold and fire, and if one thing is living and another dead, and if things are black and white and all that men say they really are,—if that is so, and if we see and hear aright, each one of these must be such as we first decided, and they cannot be changed or altered, but each must be just as it is. But, as it is, we say that we see and hear and understand aright, and yet we believe that what is warm becomes cold, and what is cold warm; that what is hard turns soft, and what is soft hard; that what is living dies, and that things are born from what lives not; and that all those things are changed, and that what they were and what they are now are in no way alike. We think that iron, which is hard, is rubbed away by contact with the finger;[5] and so with gold and stone and everything which we fancy to be strong, and that earth and stone are made out of water; so that it turns out that we neither see nor know realities. Now these things do not agree with one another. We said that there were many things that were eternal and had forms and strength of their own, and yet we fancy that they all suffer alteration, and that they change from what we see each time. It is clear, then, that we did not see aright after all, nor are we right in believing that all these things are many. They would not change if they were real, but each thing would be just what we believed it to be; for nothing is stronger than true reality. But if it has changed, what was has passed away, and what was not is come into being. So then, if there were many things, they would have to be just of the same nature as the one. R. P. 147.

(9) Now, if it were to exist, it must needs be one; but if it is one, it cannot have body; for, if it had body it would have parts, and would no longer be one. R. P. 146.[6]

(10) If what is real is divided, it moves; but if it moves, it cannot be. R. P. 144 a.[7]


  1. It is no longer necessary to discuss the passages which used to appear as frs. 1–5 of Melissos, as it has been proved by A. Pabst that they are merely a paraphrase of the genuine fragments (De Melissi Samii fragmentis, Bonn, 1889). Almost simultaneously I had independently come to the same conclusion (see the first edition, § 138). Zeller and Diels have both accepted Pabst's demonstration, and the supposed fragments have been relegated to the notes in the last edition of R. P. I still believe, however, that the fragment which I have numbered 1a is genuine. See next note.
  2. This fragment is from the beginning of the paraphrase which was so long mistaken for the words of Melissos (Simpl. Phys. p. 103, 18; R. P. 142 a), and Diels has removed it along with the rest. I believe it to be genuine because Simplicius, who had access to the original, introduces it by the words ἄρχεται τοῦ συγγράμματος οὕτως, and because it is thoroughly Eleatic in character. It is quite natural that the first words of the book should be prefixed to the paraphrase.
  3. This fragment is quoted by Simpl. De caelo, p. 557, 16 (R. P. 144). The insertion of the word "infinite" is justified by the paraphrase (R. P. 144 a) and by M.X.G. 974 a 11, πᾶν δὲ ἄπειρον ὂν . . . ἓν . . . εἶναι· εἰ γὰρ δύο ἢ πλείω εἴη, πέρατ' ἂν εἶναι ταῦτα πρὸς ἄλληλα.
  4. I have ventured to insert this, though the actual words are nowhere quoted, and it is not in Diels. It is represented in the paraphrase (R. P. 145 a) and in M.X.G. 974 a 13 (R. P. 144 a).
  5. Reading ὁμουρέων with Bergk. Diels keeps the MS. ὁμοῦ ῥεων; Zeller (p. 613, n. 1) conjectures ὑπ' ἰοῦ ῥέων.
  6. I read εἰ μὲν οὖν εἴη with E F for the εἰ μὲν ὂν εἴη. The ἐὸν which still stands in R. P. is a piece of local colour due to the editors. Diels also now reads οὖν.
  7. Diels now reads ἀλλὰ with E for the ἅμα of F, and attaches the word to the next sentence.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1928, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 94 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.