Ars longa, vita brevis

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Ars longa, vita brevis is a Latin translation of an aphorism coming originally from Greek. The Latin quote is often rendered in English as Art is long, life is short.

The aphorism quotes the first two lines of the Aphorismi by the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. The familiar Latin translation Ars longa, vita brevis reverses the order of the original lines.

Translations[edit]

The original text, a standard Latin translation, and an English translation from the Greek follow.

Greek:[1]
Ὁ βίος βραχύς,
ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή,
ὁ δὲ καιρὸς ὀξύς,
ἡ δὲ πεῖρα σφαλερή,
ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή.
Ho bios brakhys,
hê de tekhnê makrê,
ho de kairos oxys,
hê de peira sphalerê,
hê de krisis khalepê.
Latin:English:[2]
Vita brevis,
ars longa,
occasio praeceps,
experimentum periculosum,
iudicium difficile.
Life is short,
and art long,
opportunity fleeting,
experience perilous,
and decision difficult.

The Latin translation is more clearly recognizable, but less idiomatic. If rendered into English used Latinate terms, it becomes:

Vitality [is] brief,
art [is] long,
occasion precipitous,
experiment perilous,
judgment difficult.

Interpretation[edit]

The most common and significant caveat made regarding the saying is that "art" (Latin: ars, translating Ancient Greek: τέχνη (techne)) originally meant "technique, craft" (as in The Art of War), not "fine art". Hippocrates was a physician who made this the opening statement in a medical text. The lines which follow: "The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants, and externals cooperate." Thus in plainer language "it takes a long time to acquire and perfect one's expertise (in, say, medicine) and one has but a short time in which to do it".[3] It can be interpreted as "art lasts forever, but artists die and are forgotten"[3] (in this use sometimes rendered in the Greek order as "Life is short, Art eternal"), but most commonly it refers to how time limits our accomplishments in life.[4]

Related sayings[edit]

The late-medieval author Chaucer (c. 1343–1400) observed “Life is so short, and the craft takes so long to learn” (Parlement of Foules). The first-century CE rabbi Tarfon is quoted as saying "The day is short, the labor vast, the workers lazy, the reward great, the Master urgent." (Avot 2:20)

Popular culture[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hippocrates. "Aphorismi". In Emile Littré. Oeuvres complètes d'Hippocrate. Hakkert. 
  2. ^ Hippocrates. "Aphorismi". In Francis Adams. The Genuine Works of Hippocrates. 
  3. ^ a b Gary Martin. "Ars longa, vita brevis". The Phrase Finder. 
  4. ^ "Ars longa, vita brevis definition". Merriam-Webster.