In Greek mythology, Philomela was the daughter of Pandion, a legendary king of Athens. Her sister Procne married Tereus, king of Thrace, and went to live with him in Thrace. After five years, Procne wanted to see her sister. Tereus agreed to go to Athens and bring Philomela back for a visit. However, Tereus found Philomela so beautiful that he raped her. Then he cut out her tongue so she could not tell what had happened and hid her. He told Procne that her sister was dead.

Unable to speak, Philomela wove a tapestry depicting the story and arranged for an old woman to take it to Procne. When Procne saw the weaving, she asked the woman to lead her to Philomela. After rescuing her sister, Procne planned revenge on her husband. She killed their son Itys and served him to Tereus for supper. At the end of the meal, Philomela appeared and threw the boy's head on the table. Realizing what had happened, Tereus chased the women and tried to kill them. But before he could catch them, the gods transformed them all into birds. Tereus became a hawk (or a hoopoe), while Procne became a nightingale and Philomela a swallow. Roman writers reversed these roles, making Philomela a nightingale and Procne a swallow. The myth appears in Ovid's Metamorphoses * .

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