Ars longa, vita brevis

Ars longa, vita brevis is a Latin translation of an aphorism coming originally from Greek, roughly meaning, "skilfulness takes time and life is short".

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

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, but can express the same principle.


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

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.
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] More generally, it may also refer to how time limits our accomplishments in life.[4]

Similar sayings

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" i.e. so many bars (or pubs) to visit, in so short a life.

Sheffield Medical School

The motto of the Sheffield Medical School is "Ars longa, vita brevis".

See also


  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. 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.
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