For instance, I am writing a paper in which I am arguing that the Ancient Greek mythological Harpies originated as personifications of the Sirocco (dry wind from the Sahara). The Harpies are the personifications of the Sirocco; the Sirocco is the _______ of the Harpies.

The closest I can come up with is the term "signified" from semiotics, but this doesn't really work. I've even tried "counterpart," but ehhhhhh, so unspecific. Anyone have any better ideas?


4 Answers 4


Although it is often used to refer to mechanical contrivances, I would sometimes use prototype in this sort of circumstance.

prototype 1 : an original model on which something is patterned : ARCHETYPE 2 : an individual that exhibits the essential features of a later type

Merriam Webster


Archetype = typical example of something, or the original model of something from which others are copied:


These words do not specifically personify, although they may do so as in the following example.

”The fact that Hitler is (rightfully) our universal archetype of monstrously inhuman dictator rather than Stalin is mostly because of the not insignificant detail that we were allied with the latter in the world’s biggest war.”

Wrath-bearing Tree

  • This might also work! It implies that the Sirocco is the inspiration that the Harpies were drawn from, which is what I am going for. Thanks!
    – Orion S.
    May 16, 2021 at 4:54

I would call them vehicle and tenor, respectively— the whole thing being a metaphor.


The word, phrase, or subject with which the vehicle of a metaphor is identified, as life in “Life's but a walking shadow” (Shakespeare).

[American Heritage Dictionary]

I doubt if this is an example of personification, though. That is when you liken a non-living entity to a living one.

  • I think "tenor" might work. It will probably be hard to use in the paper without further explanation, since I don't think most readers will be aware of this meaning, but I'll try it out!
    – Orion S.
    May 16, 2021 at 4:52

The Harpies are the personifications personification of the Sirocco; the Sirocco is the origin/source/progenitor of the Harpies.


The opposite of "personify" is "objectify."

If the Harpies personify the Sirocco, are a personification of the Sirocco, then the Sirocco objectifies the Harpies, is an objectification of the Harpies (i.e., the Harpies "un-personified," as it were, and represented, embodied, or epitomized as an inanimate object).

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