Cosmos of the Ancients
The Greek Philosophers on Myth and Cosmology
According to Diogenes Laertius, Melissus said that: "we ought not to make any statements about the gods, for it was impossible to have knowledge of them." Melissus regarded the universe as unlimited and forever the same, also uniform and completely full of matter. Any change or motion was only apparent, not real. Simplicius, who contains all ten Melissus fragments remaining, quotes him saying:
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.
By the same method of reasoning he concludes that the world is one, uniform and unlimited, cannot move and cannot change.
Thereby, he would necessarily refuse to accept the cosmogony given in Hesiod, and a portrayal of gods mighty enough to cause genuine change to the world — to add things to it or take things away from it, to disturb its uniformity or set it in motion. With such limitations, there would not be much divine remaining for the gods, and indeed he makes no reference at all to them in his cosmology. Therefore, in stating that it is impossible to have any knowledge of the gods, Melissus may have masked a total disbelief in them behind this somewhat diplomatic thesis, very similar to what had been stated by Protagoras — of the same age as him — in the year 411 BC. There were limits to the tolerance of Greek society, and they could be dangerous indeed to exceed.
LiteratureDiogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, translated by R. D. Hicks, volume II, Loeb, London 1950.
Barnes, Jonathan, The Presocratic Philosophers, volume 1, London 1979.
Freeman, Kathleen, Ancilla to The Pre-Socratic Philosophers, Oxford 1952.
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