Culture: Communication:



Meditation Practice by Using Metric Verse

 in Epic Poetry


by Ourania Georgiadou

Department of Civil Protection

Athens, Greece


and Professor Stephanos A. Paipetis

Department of Mechanical Engineering & Aeronautics, University of Patras

Patras, Greece


1.      Abstract


Meditation is a most ancient and universal practice in many different cultures. As many scientific studies have proved, it has most positive effects on persons regularly practicing it, physical, mental and psychological. Over the years, numerous techniques have been developed for all kinds of meditation. Among others, meditative poetry combines religious meditation with verse, in particular the metric verse of the great Greek and Roman Epic Poetry.


In the present, the use of epic poetry as a meditation tool is examined. In particular, the Homeric Epics, most ancient in the western world, and their recitation by use of the respective meter, seem to obtain synchronization of breathing and cardiac pulse rates, entailing all the beneficent effect of meditation.


2.      On Meditation


According to the Britannica, “Meditation is private devotion or mental exercise encompassing various techniques of concentration, contemplation, and abstraction, regarded as conducive to heightened spiritual awareness or somatic calm [1]. Individual techniques involve focusing the mind on a particular object, thought or activity - to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state supposedly leading to a higher spiritual realization or bodily relaxation [2].


Meditative poetry combines the religious practice of meditation with verse. It occurs in many cultures, especially in Asian, European and Hindu cultures. Especially Buddhist and Hindu writers have developed extensive theories and phase models for meditation [3]. In Christianity, verses of the scriptures were used and both contemplation and meditation had the same end, to seek unity with God [4].


Exercising meditation is a most ancient and universal practice in many different cultures. It may serve relaxing purposes, as in the case of hermits, as well as a method of rehabilitation and enrichment of every-day life, used by numerous religious and secular bodies and individuals. Furthermore, a person, in front of an extreme effort or trial, such as a tough game, theater performance or examination, needs intense concentration [5]. In fact, reliable medical and psychological studies, reveal that meditation techniques are substantially helping trained persons to control heart and respiration rates and, to various degrees, to alleviate disturbing symptoms of syndromes, such as migraine headaches, high blood pressure, haemophilia etc.[1]


Concerning meditative epic poetry, it was proved that re-citing the Homeric Epics with their proper meter causes synchronization of heart and respiration rates, a most positive effect, similar to the effect of Christian prayer using rosaries or Hindu and Buddhist yoga applying various mantras. In other words, the Homeric Epics can be used in the same way that the sacred scriptures of various religions and esoteric traditions are used for meditation [6].

Many of the great religions have developed their own meditation schools, such as Hindu yoga, Tibetan and Japanese Zen etc. [7] Such techniques, following the Greek Drama, and many other rituals, consist of legomena (spoken), deiknymena (shown) and dromena (acted upon) elements.[2]


Legomena, besides chanting and music, consist of special syllables, words or full phrases called mantra (in Sanskrit, i.e. mental tool), dhikr (in Islam), while in Christianity the role is taken up by phrases, such as Kyrie eleison or Ave Maria etc., repeatedly uttered for long. At the first stages of meditation, a novice learns how to control, e.g., how to decrease, his/her brain activity and concentrate on respiration rate or use mantras, e.g. typical words, creating no associations inducing thought trains. On the contrary, at advanced contemplation level, meditation is supposed to lead to direct communication with the divine, practically developing into prayer, with full, repetitive phrases. The supreme mantra in Hindu meditation is AUM, believed to be the creative sound of the Universe, whose three letters correspond to birth, conservation and destruction, as expressed by the divine triad (Brahma, Vishnu, Siva. In Tibetan Buddhism, the respective word is ΟΜ, which is part of the equally important mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum" (Figure 1).




Figure 1: The Hindu mantra AUM (Sanskr. [8]) and the Tibetan OM.


With deiknymena, meditation focuses attention on pictures, depicting, for example, a flower or a mountain. In many traditions they assume typical forms, as in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism [9], where a mandala (in Sanskr. circle) is considered as a concentration point of universal forces, which a human may contact through meditation (Figure 2). Finally, dromena are various motions or gestures, walking modes etc. synchronized with the recitation of a mantra or prayer.


Brain activity can be reduced by exclusion of thought trains and focusing on a mantra, which, as stated, may have positive effects on the human body. The human brain is only 2% of body weight, however, absorbs 16% of its blood and 20% of oxygen (Figure 3). The brain remains active during sleep, therefore, decreased thinking activity can be obtained through systematic meditation, leading to less energy consumption, e.g. to reduced blood circulation, lower metabolism rate and general relaxation of the body. Similar is the change of brain waves, whereby alpha waves (frequency 10 cycles per second) prevail with respective decrease of the irregular, noise-like beta waves. Low-frequency (7-10 cycles per second) theta waves appear during deep meditation. Finally, results similar to those of meditation can be obtained by Biofeedback [10].




Figure 2: Tibetan Buddhist mandala used for meditation, representing the Universe and also the Temple or the City. In the external triangles are residing deities, symbolizing subdivisions of the energy essence of the Great Goddess (Nepal, ca. 1700 CE) [11].



Figure 3: Blood circulation in the human brain.


The effect of meditation on the cardio-vascular function is under scientific investigation and its positive effects have been confirmed. Research continues, encouraged by the Dalai Lama himself[3] [12].


The Homeric Meter


According to F. Haas et al. [12], referring to reciting metrical Homeric poetry and its effects on human physiology, it is certain that all internal rhythms can be modified by external stimulations. Furthermore, Austrian, German and Swiss researchers, tested 20 healthy individuals, men and women, of average age 43, who listened to repeated excerpts from a German translation of the Odyssey. Their heart and lungs were mechanically interconnected and their responses monitored.


In the German edition of the Odyssey the complex rhythmic verse, the dactylic hexameter, is maintained. The latter consists of six parts, i.e., of a long syllable followed by a long syllable and a short syllable or of two short syllables. A detailed account follows. While the patient was reading or listening to the verses, his respiration rate was decelerating, and heart and respiration rates were synchronizing more and more. These rhythms were fully de-synchronized when the patient stopped reading and started breathing normally again, returning to his/her every-day situation.


Concerning the above studies, i.e., the effect of Christian prayer by the use of rosaries or the utterance of Hindu or Buddhist mantras, it was found that respiration rate may drop to six per minute, assisting the heart to function more efficiently. In addition, the oxygen content in blood reaches saturation, which is an optimum condition. In fact, scientists have been wondering whether rosaries have been so popular because they make people feel better and more perceptive towards religious messages.


One of the scientists, Dirk Cysarz [13], suggested that low respiration rate is associated with low blood pressure. Moreover, other investigations prove that low respiration rate leads to better lung function. It is emphasized that poetry must be recited properly in order to affect the human body, e.g., mumbling is not helpful, while every syllable of the semi-verse must be carefully pronounced and every semi-verse followed by a relaxed respiration, to affect heart rate.


F. Haas adds that these phenomena are fully rational, without any trace of mystical dimension, since, in a living body, all organs are closely interconnected. He emphasizes the influence of marches accompanying rhythmic walking or rhythmic singing of South Asia natives, while rowing. In essence, all of these are techniques that synchronize respective functions.




3.                  The Dactylic Hexameter


A dactylic hexameter consists of six feet. Each foot would be a dactyl (a long and two short syllables). Classical meter in dactylic hexameter allows for the substitution of a spondee (two long syllables) in place of a dactyl in most positions. Specifically, the first four feet can either be dactyls or spondees more or less freely. The fifth foot is usually a dactyl (more than 95% of the time in Homer). The sixth foot can be filled by either a trochee (a long then short syllable) or a spondee. The rhythm appears to be most suitable for meditation purposes.


4.                 Conclusions


Based on the above findings and, in particular, on the last example, it is confirmed that reading ancient Greek verse is an acoustic issue. People who can read dactylic hexameters following grammar, cannot necessarily recite it aloud and with a proper rhythm, therefore, the musicality of poetry is lost. Reading with sensitivity and satisfaction requires effort and training, while the initial rules that must be adhered to are few and simple. Certainly, the positive effect on physical health is a worthy motive.




1.     Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite, Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica 2015.

2.     Walsh R, Shapiro SL (2006) The meeting of meditative disciplines and western psychology: A mutually enriching dialogue". American Psychologist 61: 227-239.

3.     Bevis WM, Stevens W (1988) Meditation and Literature. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press 1988.

4.     Sadhu M (2004) Theurgy: The Art of Effective Worship, 2nd ed., Aeon Books, UK 1988.

5.     Daube WC, Jakobsche CE, Biochemical Effects of Meditation: A Literature Review. Scholarly Undergraduate Research Journal at Clark, Clark University: 1. 2015.

6.     Paipetis SA (2010) The Unknown Technology in Homer, Springer, Dordrecht: 197-203; The Miraculous Homeric Meter, 2010.   

7.     DelMonte, M. M. (1983). Mantras and meditation: A literature review. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 57, 64- 66.

8.     The mantra in Sanskrit appears on a PC screen if one inputs reverse slash \ and converts it into Microsoft Wingdings font.

9.     Τantras (in Sanskrit "Loom"), any of the numerous scriptures dealing with esoteric practices of certain Hindu, Buddhism or Jaina cults. Buddhist Tantras date back to the 7th cent. or even earlier. Tathāgataguhyaka is an early and extreme work. Tantras have been translated into Tibetan and Chinese since the 9th cent. Only a few texts in these languages are extant, while the Sanskrit originals have been lost. An important text among Buddhist Tantras is Kālacakra-tantra.

10.            Biofeedback: Information instantly supplied to a person in relation to his/her own physiological parameters, e.g., blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, brain wave of muscle tension. This information, in the form of an electronic signal, is returned to the person through a measuring element or a light or sound indication. In this way the autonomous neural system is “bridged” with the thinking process, so that a trained individual can control the involuntary body functions, for example, to decrease the symptom of an ailing, such as pain or muscle tension, but also migraine headaches, colitis, blood hypertension, nervous ticks, as well as frequency and intensity of epileptic fits. Through feedback of brain waves, the brain functions are enhanced. In particular, it generates all tranquillizing and holistic effects of meditation, while training with theta waves leads to improved attention focusing and control of mental hindrances and stress. See Inna Khazan, The Clinical Handbook of Biofeedback, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, N.J., 2013.

11.            Rawson P (1973) Tantra, The Indian Cult of Ecstasy, Thames and Hudson, London 1973.

12.            Haas F, Distenfeld S, Axen K, Effects of perceived musical rhythm on respiratory pattern. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda) 61: 1185-1191, 1986.

13.            Cysarz D, Bonin DV, Lackner H, Heusser P, Moser M, et al. Oscillations of heart rate and respiration synchronize during poetry recitation. American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology, online edition 287: 2, 2004


Corresponding author: Stephanos A. Paipetis, Department of Mechanics

University of Patras, Greece. Tel:

+30 6944338027; Email:



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[1] The authors, out of personal experiences, confirm that, through meditation, recurrent migraine can be alleviated or even cured, and also that strong back-aches may be cured instantly, apparently after successful relaxing of the respective nerves.

[2] In Gk. λεγόμενα, δεικνύμενα, δρώμενα.

[3] Leader of the ruling class Dge-lugs-pa (of the Yellow Hat) of Tibetan Buddhism and religious as well as political leader of Tibet until 1959, when independence of Tibet was abolished by Communist China. The present 14th Dalai Lama Bstan-'dzin-rgya-mtsho is Head of a Government in exile situated in Dharmsala, India at the Himalayans. He is a Nobel Prize for Peace Laureate, thanks to his non-violent-struggle for the independence of his country.