From Chapter VIII., The Younger Eleatics
In nearly all accounts of the system of Melissos, we find it stated that he denied the corporeality of
what is real,--an opinion which is supported by a reference to fr. 9, which is certainly quoted by
Simplicius to prove this very point.62
If, however, our general view as to the character of early Greek
philosophy is correct, the statement must seem incredible. And it will seem even more surprising when
we find that in the Metaphysics Aristotle says that, while the unity of Parmenides seemed to be ideal,
that of Melissos was material.63 Now the fragment, as it stands in the MSS. of Simplicius,64
puts a purely hypothetical case, and would most naturally be understood as a disproof of the existence of
something on the ground that, if it existed, it would have to be both corporeal and one. This cannot
refer to the Eleatic One, in which Melissos himself believed; and, as the argument is almost verbally the
same as one of Zeno's,65
it is natural to suppose that it also was directed against the Pythagorean
assumption of ultimate units. The only possible objection is that Simplicius, who twice quotes the
fragment, certainly took it in the sense usually given to it.66 But it was very natural for him to make this
mistake. "The One" was an expression that had two senses in the middle of the fifth century B.C.; it
meant either the whole of reality or the point as a spatial unit. To maintain it in the first sense, the
Eleatics were obliged to disprove it in the second; and so it sometimes seemed that they were speaking
of their own "One" when they really meant the other. We have seen that the very same difficulty was felt
about Zeno's denial of the "one."67
62. See, however, Bäumker, Das Problem der Materie, pp. 57 sqq., who remarks that ἐόν (or
ὄν) in fr. 9 must be the predicate, as it has no article. In his fifth edition (p. 611, n. 2) Zeller
adopted the view here taken. He rightly observes that the hypothetical form εἰ μὲν ὂν εἴη speaks for it, and
that the subject to εἴη must be ἕκαστον τῶν πολλῶν, as with Zeno.
63. Met. A, 5. 986 b 18 (R. P. 101).
64. Brandis changed the εἴη to ἔστι, but there is no
warrant for this.
65. Cf. Zeno, fr. 1, especially the words εἰ δὲ ἔστιν, ἀνάγκη ἕκαστον μέγεθός τι ἔχειν καὶ πάχος..
66. Simpl. Phys. pp. 87, 6, and 110, 1.
67. See above, § 159, p. 315, n. 3.