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Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, by Kathleen Freeman, [1948], at

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Melissus of Samos was in his prime about 440 B.C.

He wrote a treatise On Being, in defence of Parmenides’ theory.

1. That which was, was always and always will be. For if it had come into being, it necessarily follows that before it came into being, Nothing existed. If however Nothing existed, in no way could anything come into being out of nothing.

2. Since therefore it did not come into being, it Is and always was and always will be, and has no beginning or end, but it is eternal. For if it had come into being, it would have a beginning (for it would have come into being at some time, and so begun), and an end (for since it had come into being, it would have ended). But since it has neither begun nor ended, it always was and always will be and has no beginning nor end. For it is impossible for anything to Be, unless it Is completely.

3. But as it Is always, so also its size must always be infinite.

4. Nothing that has a beginning and an end is either everlasting or infinite.

S. If it were not One, it will form a boundary in relation to something else.

6. If it were infinite, it would be One; for if it were two, (these) could not be (spatially) infinite, but each would have boundaries in relation to each other.

7. (1) Thus therefore it is everlasting and unlimited and one and like throughout (homogeneous).

(2) And neither could it perish or become larger or change its (inner) arrangement, nor does it feel pain or grief. For if it suffered any of these things, it would no longer be One. For if Being alters, it follows that it is not the same, but that that which previously Was is destroyed, and that Not-Being has come into being. Hence if it were to become different by a single hair in ten thousand years, so it must be utterly destroyed in the whole of time.

(3) But it is not possible for it to be rearranged either, for the previous arrangement is not destroyed, nor does a nonexistent arrangement come into being. And since it is neither increased by any addition, nor destroyed, nor changed, how

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could it have undergone a rearrangement of what exists? For if it were different in any respect, then there would at once be a rearrangement.

(4) Nor does it feel pain; for it could not Be completely if it were in pain; for a thing which is in pain could not always Be. Nor has it equal power with what is healthy. Nor would it be the same if it were in pain; for it would feel pain through the subtraction or addition of something, and could no longer be the same.

(5) Nor could that which is healthy feel pain, for the Healthy—That which Is—would perish, and That which Is Not would come into being.

(6) And with regard to grief, the same reasoning applies as to pain.

(7) Nor is there any Emptiness; for the Empty is Nothing; and so that which is Nothing cannot Be. Nor does it move; for it cannot withdraw in any direction, but (all) is full. For if there were any Empty, it would have withdrawn into the Empty; but as the Empty does not exist, there is nowhere for it (Being) to withdraw.

(8) And there can be no Dense and Rare. For the Rare cannot possibly be as full as the Dense, but the Rare must at once become more empty than the Dense.

(9) The following distinction must be made between the Full and the Not-Full: if a thing has room for or admits something, it is not full; if it neither has room for nor admits anything, it is full.

(10) It (Being) must necessarily be full, therefore, if there is no Empty. If therefore it is full, it does not move.

8. (1) This argument is the greatest proof that it (Being) is One only; but there are also the following proofs:

(2) If Things were Many, they would have to be of the same kind as I say the One is. For if there is earth and water and air and fire and iron and gold, and that which is living and that which is dead, and black and white and all the rest of the things which men say are real: if these things exist, and we see and hear correctly, each thing must be of such a kind as it seemed to us to be in the first place, and it cannot change or become different, but each thing must always be what it is. But now, we say we see and hear and understand correctly,

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(3) and it seems to us that the hot becomes cold and the cold hot, and the hard soft and the soft hard, and that the living thing dies and comes into being from what is not living, and that all things change, and that what was and what now is are not at all the same, but iron which is hard is worn away by contact 1 with the finger, and gold and stone and whatever seems to be entirely strong (is worn away); and that from water, earth and stone come into being. So that it comes about that we neither see nor know existing things.

(4) So these statements are not consistent with one another. For although we say that there are many things, everlasting(?), having forms and strength, it seems to us that they all alter and change from what is seen on each occasion.

(5) It is clear therefore that we have not been seeing correctly, and that those things do not correctly seem to us to be Many; for they would not change if they were real, but each would Be as it seemed to be. For nothing is stronger than that which is real.

(6) And if it changed, Being would have been destroyed, and Not-Being would have come into being. Thus, therefore, if Things are Many, they must be such as the One is.

9. If therefore Being Is, it must be One; and if it is One, it is bound not to have body. But if it had Bulk, it would have parts, and would no longer Be.

10. If Being is divided, it moves; and if it moved, it could not Be.


11. What came into being Is now and always will be.

12. (Graeco-Syrian collection of 'Sayings of the Philosophers'.) Melissus has said: 'I am very angry about the useless work at which the living toil and weary themselves: nocturnal voyages and wearisome wanderings, in which they sail amid the tumultuous waves of the sea, and hover meanwhile constantly between death and life, and tarry abroad, far distant from their homes, only to collect gain, about which they do not know who will inherit it at their death; and they do not wish to acquire the glorious treasures of wisdom, in which they will not be disappointed, because this, while they leave it behind as a

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heritage for their friends, yet also goes with them to the next world and never forsakes them. And those who have understanding testify to this when they say: 'Such-and-such a wise man is dead, but not his wisdom.'


50:1 ὁμουρέων; also ὁμοῦ ῥέων ('changing with the finger').

Next: 31. Empedocles of Acragas