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Tereus ( Greek  Τηρεύς ) is a figure in Greek mythology . He was a son of Ares and king of the Thracians . Some sources give ancient Pagai as his hometown .


When Pandion , the ruler of Athens , needed help against the attacking Thebans under their king Labdakos , he turned to Tereus for assistance. Together they drove the attackers from Attica , and Pandion gave Tereus his daughter Prokne as his wife as a thank you . Itys emerged from this connection .

Tereus cuts out Philomela's tongue. Woodcut to Ovid's Metamorphoses by Virgil Solis (1514–1562)

But Tereus also desired Philomela , Pandion's other daughter. When Prokne once spoke of her longing for her sister, the Thracian king went to Athens and picked up Philomela. On the way home he took her to a stable deep in the forest, told her that Prokne had died and raped his sister-in-law. To prevent her from betraying him, he cut out her tongue and then kept her imprisoned in that place. When he returned home, he tearfully told his wife that her sister had died during the trip and that he had buried her with his own hands.

When an oracle announced to Tereus that his son Itys would die “by a kindred hand”, the king suspected his innocent brother Dryas and killed him. However, the saying came true in other ways. Philomela learned from a conversation with the servants that Prokne was still alive. She made a robe for her sister in which she wove the pictures of her story of suffering. Prokne got the message and freed Philomela from her forest prison. As a revenge, the two women chopped up Ity, boiled his limbs and put them before Tereus for dinner; the king did not realize what he had eaten until Philomela threw him his son's head. With his sword drawn he pursued the sisters. To put a stop to the killing, Zeus turned them all into birds: Philomela into a swallow, Prokne into a nightingale, and Tereus into a hoopoe.

In later traditions the assignment of the birds was changed: Tereus is said to have become a hawk and Philomela to have become a nightingale, who complains of the victim with the cry "ityn, ityn" . The latter variant probably comes from the story of Aëdon , who killed her son Itylos .

Individual evidence

  1. Ovid , metamorphoses 6.427; Libraries of Apollodorus 3,14,8,1; Hyginus , Fabulae 45
  2. Ovid, Metamorphoses 6,424-674