Once upon a time, Procne was maddened with rage for her husband Tereus, the king of Thrace had raped her sister Philomela. Thereafter, to keep his evil act hidden, Tereus had sliced off Philomela’s tongue. Consumed with terrible fury, Procne raved to cut the tongue of Tereus, blind his lustful eyes, burn him alive, and give every painful death, ever imagined in the wretched anger of hate.
While the frenzied Procne was raging wildly, her little son, Itys, came running and clung to her. She thought Tereus would suffer most, if he lost what he loved the most. Since Tereus loved Itys the most, Procne resolved to kill Itys. Discarding her maternal love, in great anger she took a sword and fatally struck Itys, while Philomela cut through his tender throat. Then both the sisters mangled the remains of Itys, boiling a part of it in steaming pots bubbling over with the child’s blood, while the rest they roasted over hissing and spitting fires.
Thus, when the mangled remains of Itys were cooked, Procne, under a false pretense of a holy rite, invited Tereus for a feast. The gluttonous Tereus gorged himself and called Itys, to share the excellent meat. Procne, eager to rejoice over Tereus’s sorrow, cried out that the child whom Tereus was calling, was inside him. At that moment, Philomela, with disheveled hair spattered with the blood of Itys, sprang forth and hurled the head of Itys, in front of Tereus’s horror-struck face, while more than ever longing for her sliced tongue to utter fitting words.
The howling Tereus overturned the table, thrust his fingers deep in his mouth, vainly struggled to disgorge the half-digested flesh of his son, wept burning tears, and rushed with his sword, to kill the two sisters. But Procne and Philomela fled as if birds on wings, and truly they turned to red-breasted swallows, with the red feathers branding them for the murder of Itys. The chasing Tereus also turned to a sharp-beaked bird, called as Hoopoe.
Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani