Early in the first book, the Atreides family take up residence on Arrakis. While unpacking and settling in, Jessica has been discussing where to hang a portrait of Leto's father:

Jessica turned away, faced the painting of Leto's father. It had been done by the famed artist, Albe, during the Old Duke's middle years. He was portrayed in matador costume with a magenta cape flung over his left arm. The face looked young, hardly older than Leto's now, and with the same hawk features, the same gray stare. She clenched her fists at her sides, glared at the painting.

"Damn you! Damn you! Damn you!" she whispered.

And in an earlier exchange with Leta, she tries to persuade Leto not to hang it in the dining hall. Leto overrules her, but tells her she will only have to eat in the dining hall on formal occasions.

Why does she have such longstanding negative feelings toward this person, that many years after his death she doesn't want to see his likeness and wishes to curse him?

  • Unsure, but it could be because of the sense of honour that Paulus gave Leto.
    – user25730
    Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 2:17
  • 2
    At a guess - because he didn't allow them to be married.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 9:21

1 Answer 1


Jessica later says, in conversation with Yueh,

"Besides, Wellington, the Duke is really two men. One of them I love very much. He's charming, witty, considerate ... tender - everything a woman could desire. But the other man is ... cold, callous, demanding, selfish - as harsh and cruel as a winter wind. That's the man shaped by the father." Her face contorted. "If only that old man had died when my Duke was born!"

She blames the influence of the Old Duke for negative traits in Leto. In particular, the portrait and bull's head are a specific reminder that Leto's father was the kind of man who would enter a bullfight, injure but not kill the animal, then carelessly turn his back on it - allowing it to slay him. This relates to her fear of a Harkonnen trap on Arrakis, which Leto is deliberately entering, and which might lead to his own death as a result of his boldness.

Leto is well aware of her negative feelings, but he feels that family honour demands the portrait be displayed in a place where Jessica will see if often. This too is the "Old Duke" side of his personality. In the "Damn you!" scene, Jessica has just been reminded of Leto's occasional disdain for her feelings - both in the placing of the portrait and his renewed commitment to the "dangerous gamble" of using the Fremen. So when she turns around and sees the portrait again, she instantly feels that sense of loathing towards Leto's father.

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