Tereus desired his wife's sister, Philomela. He forced himself upon her, then cut her tongue out and held her captive so she could never tell anyone. He told his wife that her sister had died. Philomela wove letters in a tapestry depicting Tereus's crime and sent it secretly to Procne. In revenge, Procne killed her and Tereus' son Itys and served his flesh in a meal to his father Tereus. When Tereus learned what she had done, he tried to kill the sisters but all three were changed by the Olympian Gods into birds: Tereus became a hoopoe; Philomela became the nightingale whose song is a song of mourning for the loss of innocence; Procne became the swallow.
The names "Procne" and "Philomela" are sometimes used in literature to refer to the nightingale, though only the latter is mythologically correct.
Tereus was also a common given name among Thracians.
- The Love of the Nightingale, play by Timberlake Wertenbaker
- The Love of the Nightingale, opera by Richard Mills to a libretto from the above play
- The New Tereus by Robert Lalonde
- "The Machine" by M. Rickert, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January 2003; reprinted in Holiday, Golden Gryphon Press, 2010
- Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War 2:29
- Bibliotheca 3.14.8
- March, J. (2000). "Vases and Tragic Drama". In Rutter, N.K. & Sparkes, B.A. Word and Image in Ancient Greece. University of Edinburgh. pp. 121–123. ISBN 978-0-7486-1405-9.