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Rubens: Tereus Confronted with the Head of his Son Itys, 1636–38

In Greek mythology, Tereus /ˈtɛrˌjs/ (Ancient Greek: Τηρεύς) was a Thracian king,[1][2] the son of Ares and husband of Procne. Procne and Tereus had a son, Itys.


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 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; Procne became the nightingale whose song is a song of mourning for the loss of her child; Philomela became the swallow, which has no song.

Other versions of this myth have Procne transformed into the swallow and Philomela into a nightingale (Hyginus, Fabulae, 45).

Tereus was also a common given name among Thracians.[1]

The Attic playwrights Sophocles and Philocles both wrote plays entitled Tereus on the subject of the story of Tereus.[3]

Shakespeare refers to Tereus in Titus Andronicus, after Chiron and Demetrius have raped Lavinia and cut out her tongue and also both her hands. He also makes reference to Tereus in "Cymbeline", when Iachimo spies upon the sleeping Imogen to gather false evidence so he can persuade Posthumus he has seduced her.

Modern adaptations[edit]


  1. ^ a b Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War 2:29
  2. ^ Bibliotheca 3.14.8
  3. ^ 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. 

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