Roman Mythology

Ovid and the Metamorphoses

What is the myth of Tereus and Procne and Philomela?

In Book Six we find the strange tale of Tereus and Procne, which readers of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land,” will recognize. Tereus, king of Thrace, has married Procne, daughter of the king of Athens. After five years of marriage, Procne begs Tereus for permission to see her much-loved sister Philomela, and Tereus agrees to go to Athens to fetch her. Once he sees her, however, he desires her, brings her back to Thrace, hides her, and rapes her. To prevent the revelation of his crime, he cuts out Philomela’s tongue so that she cannot speak. Philomela, however, weaves a depiction of the rape and sends it to her sister. For revenge, Procne serves a special dinner to Tereus. The meal is their son, whom Procne has killed and cooked. After dinner she tells Tereus what she has done and she and Philomela are turned into birds to escape his wrath.


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