Life Is Short, Art Long

The Art of Healing in Byzantium

The famous aphorism of Hippocrates— “Life is short, art long”— stands at the heart of this exhibition, which examined the art and practice of healing in Byzantium from Roman times to the late Byzantine period. It traced the concurrent methods of healing—faith, magic, and rational medicine—from the foundations laid by Apollo and Asklepios, healers of antiquity, as well as Hippocrates and Dioscorides, the founders of rational medicine. The fascinating coexistence of a belief in demons as the primary cause of illness and a rational perception of disease, grounded in Hippocratic teachings, come together in the protagonists of the “art of healing”—the physicians, druggists, saints, holy men, and magicians who healed the sick. The daily rituals involved in maintaining and pursuing well-being, protecting against demons, purifying the body and soul offer a glimpse into the daily life of the Byzantines.

The exhibition catalogue illustrates the influence of Byzantium’s ancient cultural heritage on religious and rational thought as well as contemporary scientific developments and innovations from around the Mediterranean. The catalogue is one of the most updated and extensive publication on the history and art of healing in Byzantium with essays written by the acclaimed academics and with various works, some of them being published for the first time.  

Publication Year: 2015
Number of pages:


10 Foreword

12 Dream Healing: From Asklepios to the Physician Saints
Vincent Déroche

26 Healing Miracles of Christ and the Saints
Nancy P. Ševčenko

42 Light, Water, and Wondrous Creatures: Supernatural Forces for Healing
Brigitte Pitarakis

64 Water and Healing in Constantinople Reading the Architectural Remains
Robert G. Ousterhout

78 Constantinople: City of Miraculous Healings
Alice-Mary Talbot

90 Medical Arts, Erudition, and Practice in the Byzantine Capital
Marie-Hélène Congourdeau

104 Contextualizing the Art of Healing by Byzantine Physicians
Petros Bouras-Vallianatos

124 Between the Past and the East Symeon Seth’s Nutritional Advice to Michael VII Doukas
Frederick Lauritzen

134 The Manuscript Tradition of Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica from Byzantium to the Arabs
Marie Cronier

152 Dioscorides and Beyond Imported Medicinal Plants in the Byzantine Empire
Koray Durak

162 Empowering Healing: Substances, Senses, and Rituals
Brigitte Pitarakis

180 The Embodied Self in Byzantine Culture
Christos Merantzas

193 Catalogue

367 Bibliography

381 Photographic Credits

385 Map

Life Is Short, Art Long

This exhibition took its name from the famous aphorism by Hippocrates and examines the art and practice of healing in Byzantium from Roman times to the late Byzantine period.

Life Is Short, Art Long