The pre-born of the Dune series have their ancestors memories up to the moment of the next generations' conception. This is stated many times throughout the books. Leto II, however, claims to know death intimately because he has experienced it so often in his ancestor memories.

How unutterably boring death is.

Even before his transformation, he tells Stilgar (?) that death holds no surprise for him. And later in his recorded journals, he mentions the various methods by which he has suffered:

I have suffered wounds in every epoch - wounds from fist and club and rock, from shell-studded limb and bronze sword, from the mace and the cannon, from arrows and lasguns and the silent smothering of atomic dust, from biological invasions which blacken the tongue and drown the lungs, from the swift gush of flame and the silent working of slow poisons... and more I will not recount! I have seen and felt them all.

Given that each ancestor memory only goes up to the point where the next one was conceived, it doesn't make sense that Leto II would have any memories of death or fatal wounds. Or, as Lady Jessica puts it:

How truly strange it was, Jessica thought, that this young flesh could carry all of Paul's memories, at least until the moment of Paul's spermal separation from his own past.

Leto himself apparently addressed this very point somewhat while discussing the nature of armies with his majordomo, Moneo:

He is every soldier in human history. He offered to parade for me a series of examples-famous military figures who were frozen in adolescence.

Why would a pre-born have memories of death or fatal injuries?

  • Because other-memory isn't just genetic, it's also telepathic somehow, hence why Ghola Idaho can have memories of his missing link ancestors
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 21:11
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    Well, if he could see the future, why not feel the past.
    – Mithoron
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 21:23
  • 2
    I've similarly wondered where his wisdom comes from given that the vast majority of his human ancestors will have been around 17-20 when the next generation was conceived. Anyone who has been a 17-20 year old knows that most of them are not founts of wisdom for the ages.
    – Broklynite
    Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 5:06
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    can we have a quote proving that pre-borns ancestors memories halt at conception. since that seems to be the crux of the argument and i cant seem to remember that
    – Himarm
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 15:34
  • @Broklynite You'd contend that in a thousand lives of 20 years each you could not find the wisdom of a single elder of 80?
    – user15742
    Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 3:59

2 Answers 2


That is a question that has bothered me a great deal too. I've spent some time thinking about it.

Best as I can explain it, there are multiple ways to acquire the memories and personae of other people. And each way has different results.

There is the inheritance ritual that the Fremen do when they make a Sayyadina:

Too late, Jessica saw what was happening: the old woman was dying and, in dying, pouring her experiences into Jessica's awareness as water is poured into a cup. The other mote faded back into pre-birth awareness as Jessica watched it. And, dying-in-conception, the old Reverend Mother left her life in Jessica's memory with one last sighing blur of words. "I've been a long time waiting for you," she said. "Here is my life."
There it was, encapsuled, all of it.
Even the moment of death.

Now, in this instance you do get to remember the other person's death. But the only death memory you inherit is simply the passing of the other Reverend Mother who passes away at the ceremony. It appears to require physical contact, like making a copy of a computer file. So how would Leto know about being killed by bronze swords and atomic dust?

The answer appears to be something less physical and more mystical. Dune leans heavily on science for explanations - but occasionally does get mystical. Like when the Reverent Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim is using Tarot cards in her prison cell on Dune shortly before her death.

There is a scene in Chapterhouse Dune, where Duncan is thinking about how he remembers being all the other Duncan gholas. What the Tleilaxu did was to collect a pinch of cells from each killed ghola, mix them, and make a composite. That explains his multiple memories. But it wasn't possible to get them all. And Duncan knows that - yet he has all the memories of all the gholas:

Mentat demands flowed through Idaho's mind. He let the questions he had asked himself so many times move of themselves, forming their patterns. What did the Tleilaxu seek in one? They could not have included cells from all of his ghola-selves for this incarnation. Yet . . . he had all of the memories. What cosmic linkage accumulated all of those lives in this one self? Was that the clue to the visions that beset him in the Great Hold?

So the best explanation seems to be that there is some mystical process that allows a person to know things that wouldn't be possible if acquiring the memories of another person were simply a physical process.

I believe that something is "the Net" that Duncan sees in the great hold of the no-ship prison, but I cannot prove it.

  • 1
    +1 for this. You might also want to mention Alia's interaction with the Reverend mothers at the end of Dune. She's capable of internalising their thoughts and communicating mind-to-mind but the Reverend Mothers shrug off the suggestion that she's using telepathy.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 23:06
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    @Valorum, that is an absolutely excellent point. Alia stands in Gaius Helen Mohaim's memory somehow. It should be impossible for her to be there if memory transfer were purely a physical process. Personally I believe that "the Net" is the sum total of all human experience, and the spice/that person's genetics - allows each person to access as much of it as they are able. There is another hint in the series about how computers do not have infinite memory and humans do. Only way that would be possible is if we were somehow tied to the infinite as well, I'd guess.
    – BoredBsee
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 2:35

There is quite a bit of evidence to the contrary, indicating that other memory persists after lineage is passed on. Other memory can be shared between reverend mothers; therefor, it isn't just ancestor memories. lineage is not a prerequisite to be among the voices in other memory. Memories of death are included in other memory because it is a part of the person's experiences. Voices in other memory know they are dead, as proven by this quote from Vladimir Harkonnen in Alia's other memory.

"You see," the basso voice rumbled, "it is only your maternal grandfather. You know me. I was the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen."

"You're . . . you're dead!" she gasped.

"But, of course, my dear! Most of us within you are dead. But none of the others are really willing to help you. They don't understand you."

The word "most" indicates that living people are also in other memory. This is reinforced by the fact that Alia was listening to Jessica's voice in other memory before she let the Baron take over.

Paul and Leto II may be a special case of separation after birth because they are both Kwisatz Haderachs. It is known that the prescient cannot see other prescient people. This is why Leto II only has suspicion that his father is alive, instead of it being confirmed by prescience.

  • When he said "most", the two living ones who immediately spring to mind are The Reverend Mother (Jessica's mother) and Jessica herself. Both would be a part of Alia's other memory, yet still alive.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 20:00

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