Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
“Jug Jug” to dirty ears.
99. V. Ovid, Metamorphoses, VI, Philomela.
The story of Philomela is given by Ovid in Book VI of Metamorphoses.
The beautiful Philomela is kidnapped, raped, and imprisoned by her sister Procne's husband, King Tereus. To prevent Philomela from revealing what he has done, Tereus then cuts out her tongue. Imprisoned, isolated, and unable to speak, Philomela weaves a tapestry depicting her suffering at Tereus' hands and sends it to Procne. Procne, enraged, frees her sister. The sisters then take their revenge on Tereus, murdering his and Procne's son and feeding the boy's body to the king. When the sisters reveal what they've done, Tereus charges them in fury. Before he can reach them, however, all three are transformed into birds. From the Ted Hughes translation:
...suddenly they were flying. One swerved
On wings into the forest,
The other, with the blood still on her breast,
Flew up under the eaves of the palace.
And Tereus, charging blind
In his delirium of grief and vengeance,
No longer caring what happened—
He too was suddenly flying.
On his head and shoulders a crest of feathers,
Instead of a sword a long, curved beak—
Like a warrior transfigured
With battle-frenzy dashing into battle.
He had become a hoopoe.
Mourned in the forest, a nightingale.
Lamented round and round the palace,
Images from this story recur throughout the poem. In his note for line 100, Eliot directs us to an echo of the Philomela story in Part III. The swallow appears again at the end of the poem.