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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

A History of Greek Philosophy / THE ELEATICS / MELISSUS


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The fourth and last of the Eleatic philosophers was Melissus, a native of Samos. His date may be fixed as about 440 B.C. He took an active part in the politics of his native country, and on one occasion was commander of the Samian fleet in a victorious engagement with the Athenians, when Samos was being besieged by Pericles. He belongs to the Eleatic school in respect of doctrine and method, but we have no evidence of his ever having resided at Elea, nor any reference to his connection with the philosophers there, except the statement that he was a pupil of Parmenides. He developed very fully what is technically called in the science of Logic the Dilemma. Thus, for example, he begins his treatise On Existence or On Nature thus: “If nothing exists, then there is nothing for us to talk about. But if there is such a thing as existence it must either come into being or be ever-existing. If it come into being, it must come from the existing or the non-existing. Now that anything which exists, above all, that which is absolutely existent, should come from what is not, is impossible. Nor can it come from that which is. For then it would be already, and would not come into being. That which exists, therefore, comes not into being; it must therefore be ever-existing.”

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