Ars longa, vita brevis

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Mural at the Old Town Hall (Göttingen) [de] in Germany.

Ars longa, vita brevis is a Latin translation of an aphorism coming originally from Greek, roughly meaning, "skilfulness takes time and 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, stressing the long-lasting impact of art over the brevity of life.


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

Greek:[1] Romanized
Ὁ βίος βραχύς,
ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή,
ὁ δὲ καιρὸς ὀξύς,
ἡ δὲ πεῖρα σφαλερή,
ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή.
Ho bíos brakhús,
hē dè tékhnē makrḗ,
ho dè kairòs oxús,
hē dè peîra sphalerḗ,
hē dè krísis khalepḗ.
Latin: English:[2]
Vīta brevis,
ars longa,
occāsiō praeceps,
experīmentum perīculōsum,
iūdicium difficile.
Life is short,
and art long,
opportunity fleeting,
experimentations perilous,
and judgment difficult.


The most common and significant caveat made regarding the saying is that "art" (Latin: ars, translating Ancient Greek: τέχνη tékhnē) 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 "while artists die and are forgotten, art lasts forever"[3] (in this use sometimes rendered in the Greek order as "Life is short, Art eternal"), but it may also refer to how time limits our accomplishments in life.[4][failed verification]

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 are lazy, the reward great, the Master urgent." (Avot 2:15) A light-hearted version in England, thought to have originated in Shropshire, is the pun "Bars longa, vita brevis" ie so many bars (or pubs) to visit, in so short a life.


  1. ^ Hippocrates. "Aphorismi". In Emile Littré (ed.). Oeuvres complètes d'Hippocrate. Hakkert.
  2. ^ Hippocrates. "Aphorismi". In Francis Adams (ed.). 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). The Parliament of Fowles  – via Wikisource.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]