Procne (Πρόκνη, Próknē) is the eldest daughter of the Athenian king Pandion, wife of King Tereus of Thrace, and her sister is Philomela. Philomela is raped by Tereus, who cuts off her tongue and she, in turn, weaves a tapestry depicting everything to reveal the crime, and the two sisters take revenge on the criminal.

Myth of Procne and Philomela

The Athenian king Pandion, a descendant of Erichthonius, waged war with the barbarians who besieged his city. He would have had a hard time defending Athens against the numerous barbarian army if the Thracian king Tereus had not come to his aid. Tereus defeated the barbarians and drove them out of Attica. As a reward for this, Pandion gave him his daughter Procne as his wife. Terey returned with his young wife to Thrace. Their son was soon born there. One would say that the Moiras wished happiness to Tereus and his wife.

Five years have passed since Tereus got married. Procne once asked her husband:

“If you still love me, let me see your sister or bring her to us. Go to Athens to bring my sister; ask Dad to let her go and promise that she will be back soon. It will be my greatest happiness to see my sister.”

Tereus prepared his ships for long voyages and soon departed from Thrace. He reached the shores of Attica safely. Pandion happily welcomed his son-in-law and took him to the palace. Tereus had not yet been able to say what he had come to Athens for when Philomela, Procne’s sister, entered, as beautiful as the beautiful nymphs. Philomela’s beauty made a very strong impression on Tereus and he had a passionate love for her. He began to beg Pandion to let Philomela stay with his sister Procne. His love for Philomela made Tereus’ words even more convincing. Philomela herself, unaware of the danger that threatened her, also asked her father to let her go to Procne. In the end, Pandion agreed. Giving his daughter permission to go to distant Thrace, he told Tereus:

“I trust you, Tereus, my daughter. I swear to the immortal gods to keep her as her father. And rather bring Philomela back, because she is my only consolation in old age.”

Pandion also asked Philomela:

“Daughter, if you love your old father, come back soon, don’t leave me alone.”

With tears in his eyes, Pandion parted with his daughter. Although he was tormented by heavy forebodings, he still could not refuse Tereus and Philomela.

Pandion’s beautiful daughter boarded the ship. The oars moved the oars in time, and the ship quickly sailed out to sea, farther and farther from the shores of Attica. Tereus is celebrating. He shouted happily.

“I won! With me here on the ship is the chosen one of my heart, the beautiful Philomela.”

Throughout the journey, Tereus does not take his eyes off Philomela and does not separate from her. Here are the shores of Thrace; the journey is over. But the king of Thrace did not take Philomela to his palace, but took her by force to a dark forest, to a shepherd’s hut, and kept her there in slavery. He is not moved by Philomela’s tears and pleas. Philomela suffers like a slave; she often calls her sister and father, she often calls on the great Olympian gods, but her pleas and complaints are in vain. In desperation, Philomela pulls her hair, breaks her arms and mourns her fate.

“Oh, cruel barbarian!”, she exclaims. “You were not moved by my father’s pleas, or his tears, or my sister’s care for me! You did not keep the sanctity of your home! Take then, Tereus, my life, but know: the great gods saw your crime, and if they still have power, you will suffer a deserved punishment. I will tell you everything you did. I will personally go to the people! And if the forests that surround me do not allow me to leave them, I will fulfill my goals with my complaints. Let the eternal heavenly Ether hear my complaints, let the gods hear them!”

Terrible became terrified when he heard Philomela’s threats. He drew his sword, grabbed Philomela by the hair, tied her up, and cut off her tongue so that Pandion’s unfortunate daughter could not tell anyone about his crime. And Tereus himself returned to Procne. She asked her husband where her sister was, but Tereus told her that her sister had died. Procne, who had allegedly died, complained for a long time.

A whole year has passed. Philomela disappears into slavery; he can’t tell either his father or his sister where Tereus is holding her. She finally found a way to tell Procne. She sat on the loom, made a cloak in which she wove a story of all her terrible fate, and secretly sent this cloak to Procne. She unfolded Procne’s cloak and, to her horror, saw her sister’s scary story woven on it. Procne does not cry, as if in oblivion she wanders like a madwoman around the palace and thinks only of revenge on Tereus.

This happened just in the days when the Thracians celebrated the feast of Dionysus, Procne went with the women. In a dense forest on the mountain slopes, she found the hut in which her husband had enslaved Philomela. Procne released her sister and secretly took her to the palace.

“Now is not the time for tears, Philomela,” said Procne, “tears will not help us. We must act not with tears, but with the sword. I am ready for the most terrible crime only to take revenge on Tereus for you and for myself. I am ready to destroy him through the most horrible death!”

As Procne spoke, her son entered her room.

“Oh, how much you look like your father!”, exclaimed Procne, looking at her son.

Suddenly she fell silent and frowned sternly. Procne planned a terrible crime; the anger that raged in her breast drove her to this crime. And the son confidently approached his mother, hugged her with his arms and reached out to kiss her. Only for a moment did mercy awaken in Procne’s heart, her eyes water; she quickly turned her back on her son, and when she looked at her sister, furious anger flared up in her chest again. Procne took her son by the hand and led him to a remote room in the palace. There she grabbed a sharp sword and, turning around, pierced her son’s chest with it. Procne and Philomela cut the unfortunate boy’s body into pieces, boiled one part of it in a cauldron, and roasted another part on rye and prepared a terrible feast for Tereus. Procne served Tereus personally, and he, unaware of anything, ate the dish prepared by the body of his beloved son. During the meal, Tereus remembered his son and ordered him to be called. And Procne, glad that she was taking revenge, answered him:

“The one you call is in you!”

Tereus did not understand her words and insisted that his son be called. Then Philomela suddenly came out from behind a curtain and threw the bloodied head of his son in Tereus’ face. Tereus shivered with terror; he realized what a terrible thing his feast was. He cursed his wife and Philomela. Hitting the table, he jumped up from his seat and, with a naked sword in his hand, chased Procne and Philomela to avenge his son’s killers with his own hands, but could not catch up. They grow wings, they turn into two birds – Philomela into a swallow, and Prokna into a nightingale. On the chest of the swallow – Philomela, there is a bloodstain from the blood of Tereus’ son. Tereus himself was turned into a bastard, with a long beak and a large comb on his head. A comb of feathers flutters on the parrot’s head, as on the warrior Tereus’ helmet.

Exposed according to Ovid’s poem “Metamorphoses”