by James Hunter

Philomela and Procne were the daughters of king Pandion of Athens and Zeuxippe. Procne was married to king Tereus of Thrace (one of the sons of Ares), and had a son by him, Itys. Tereus conceived an illicit passion for Philomela and contrived to get her sent to Thrace; he violated her, and then cut off her tongue and imprisoned her, so that she could tell no one of his crime. Philomela however, wove a tapestry which revealed the facts of the matter to Procne.

In order to get revenge, Procne killed Itys and cooked him, so that Tereus ate his own son for dinner. Tereus did not realize whom he had eaten until Procne showed him the head of his son. Enraged, he pursued the two sisters in order to kill them. Before the chase could end, Zeus intervened and turned all three into birds — Tereus into a hoopoe, Procne into a swallow, and Philomela into a nightingale (hence the nightingale is often called a "Philomel" in poetry).

Roman authors occasionally mention Philomela as the mother of Itys.



  • Ovid. Metamorphoses vi, 401-674.
  • Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 14.8.