art is long and life is short

Hippocrates (Aphorisms I. I. ὁ βίος βραχύς, ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή, life is short, but art is long) compared the difficulties encountered in learning the art of medicine or healing with the shortness of human life. Hippocrates’ saying was alluded to by Seneca in his dialogue ‘On the Brevity of Life’ (De brevitate vitae I: vitam brevem esse, longam artem) and from this version the usual Latin form of the tag is derived: ars longa, vita brevis, art is long, life is short. Art is now commonly understood in the proverb in a less specific sense. In quot. 1958, it refers to (the durability of) a work of art.

c 1380 CHAUCER Parliament of Fowls 1. 1 The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.

1558 W. BULLEIN Government of Health 5v And although oure life be shorte, yet the arte of phisicke is long.

1581 G. PETTIE tr. S. Guazzo’s Civil Conversation I. 16 An art is long and life is short.

1710 S. PALMER Proverbs 380 Art is Long, Life Short. Our Philosophical Meditations on Time are very Obscure and Confus’d.

1869 M. ARNOLD Culture & Anarchy vi. If..we take some other criterion of man’s well-being than the cities he has built..our Liberal friends..take us up very sharply. ‘Art is long’, says the Times, ‘and life is short.’

1958 L. DURRELL Balthazar IV. xiii. The shapely hand on his shoulder still wore the great ring taken from the tomb of a Byzantine youth. Life is short, art long.

1987 ‘C. AIRD’ Dead Liberty viii. ‘The art is long,’ Sloan heard himself saying aloud... ‘And life is short. I know that.’ Dr. Bressingham completed the quotation brusquely.


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