Ars longa, vita brevis

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For the album by The Nice, see Ars Longa Vita Brevis (album).
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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 using slightly more 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]

Similar sayings[edit]

The late-medieval author Chaucer (c. 1343–1400) observed "The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne" ("The life so short, the craft so long to learn", the first line of the Parlement of Foules).[5] 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]

  • Ars Longa Vita Brevis is the name of an album by The Nice.
  • In Robert Heinlein's novel Glory Road, the two mounts that Scar and Star ride are named Ars Longa and Vita Brevis.
  • Rapper Ras Kass begins his song "Van Gogh" by speaking this Latin phrase and its English translation.[6]
  • In Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake, the phrase was the Latin motto for the Martha Graham Academy

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. 
  5. ^ Chaucer, Geoffrey (1380s). Wikisource link to The Parliament of Fowles. Wikisource.
  6. ^ Rap Genius http://rapgenius.com/Ras-kass-van-gogh-lyrics |url= missing title (help).