A daughter of Pandareus of Ephesus. According to Homer1 she was the wife of Zethus, king of Thebes, and the mother of Itylus. Envious of Niobe, the wife of her brother Amphion, who had six sons and six daughters, she formed the plan of killing the eldest of Niobe's sons, but by mistake slew her own son Itylus. Zeus relieved her grief by changing her into a nightingale, whose melancholy tunes are represented by the poet as Aëdon's lamentations about her child.2

According to a later tradition preserved in Antoninus Liberalis,3 Aëdon was the wife of Polytechnus, an artist of Colophon, and boasted that she lived more happily with him than Hera with Zeus. Hera to revenge herself ordered Eris to induce Aëdon to enter upon a contest with her husband. Polytechnus was then making a chair, and Aëdon a piece of embroidery, and they agreed that whoever should finish the work first should receive from the other a female slave as the prize.

When Aëdon had conquered her husband, he went to her father, and pretending that his wife wished to see her sister Chelidonis, he took her with him. On his way home he ravished her, dressed her in slave's attire, enjoined her to observe the strictest silence, and gave her to his wife as the promised prize. After some time Chelidonis, believing herself unobserved, lamented her own fate, but she was overheard by Aëdon, and the two sisters conspired against Polytechnus and killed his son Itys, whom they placed before him in a dish.

Aëdon fled with Chelidonis to her father, who, when Polytechnus came in pursuit of his wife, had him bound, smeared with honey, and thus exposed him to the insects. Aëdon now took pity upon the sufferings of her husband, and when her relations were on the point of killing her for this weakness, Zeus changed Polytechnus into a pelican, the brother of Aëdon into a whoop, her father into a sea-eagle, Chelidonis into a swallow, and Aëdon herself into a nightingale.

This mythus seems to have originated in mere etymologies, and is of the same class as that about Philomela and Procne.



  1. Odyssey xix, 517 ff.
  2. Compare Pherecydes. Fragments, p. 138, ed. Sturz; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 5.5.
  3. c. 11.


  • Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.

This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.