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.
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.
- 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
- 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.