The customs and ethics of the Bene Tleilax led to widespread revulsion by the other cultures of the Known Universe, a reaction that did little to quench the Tleilaxu's hunger to subjugate their rivals.
During the Butlerian Jihad
Around the years of the Butlerian Jihad, Tlulax was an Unallied planet. The Tlulaxa worked as merchants and slavers. Tlulaxa scientists were noted geneticists and cloners and the planet was known for its organ farms. During the war, due to the heightened demand, slaves were taken as organ reservoirs. This was revealed by Vorian Atreides, and public opinion had been inflamed against the genetic researchers; outraged mobs destroyed the organ farms and most of the Tlulaxa went into hiding, hated by the League.
The Corrino Empire
Ten thousand years later, during the time near the end of Corrino Empire, the Tleilax had re-established themselves, and had curried positions of favor with the Imperial House. The Master Researcher Hidar Fen Ajidica, presented a plan to synthesize melange to Emperor Elrood Corrino IX, and persuaded him to allow the Tleilax to conquer Ix from House Vernius.
Though the Tleilaxu tried in vain to completely synthesize spice, delusions of grandeur came into the thoughts of Ajidica, as he came close to mimicking melange with Amal, or as he called it, Ajidamal. Ajidica envisioned the advent of Tleilaxu hegemony throughout the Known Universe, and sent out colony ships of Enhanced Face Dancers, to "prepare the way" for his ascendancy. Project Amal, as the doomed venture came to be known, fell apart; as Ix was re-conquered by House Vernius, Ajidica died from an overdose of his own spice alternative; and all conact was lost with the Enhanced Face Dancers.
The Atreides Empire
After Paul Atreides ascended the Golden Lion Throne, the Tleilaxu tried in vain to create a rival Kwisatz Haderach, to challenge Paul's rule. From Thalidei, on Tleilax, gholas named Thallo were grown, and the first was awakened. After just a short time, Thallo, used his prescient ability to discern that he was a failed attempt to create a super-being. Distraught, Thallo attempted to wipe out the citizens of Thalidei with nerve gas, but was instead killed by Marie Fenring, the assassin-trained daughter of Hasimir Fenring and Margot Fenring.
Scytale, the Face Dancer
The Tleilaxu directly participated in the plot to destroy the royal family with the gift to Paul Atreides of Hayt, the ghola of Duncan Idaho. When Chani died giving birth to the twins Leto II and Ghanima Atreides the Face Dancer Scytale was killed by the Emperor with the help of his new-born son.
Leto II and The Famine Times
Under Leto II, the Tleilaxu chafed just as all of the old power brokers struggled against his complete authortarian rule. Near the end of his reign, the Tleilaxu participated in a direct assassination attempt against him in the festival city of On, formerly Arrakeen. They also engineered his eventual fiancee' and love, Hwi Noree; from the cells of his old friend, Malky; before the God Emperor's death on Dune. When Leto died, and the Famine Times began, the Tleilaxu, just as the rest of humanity, spread throughout the cosmos in The Scattering, in an attempt to find hospitable worlds.
Formation of the Honored Matres
Centuries into the Scattering, some of the female Tleilaxu, all of whom had been reduced to Axlotl Tanks, revolted against their male keepers. These same females merged with Scattering-oriented Fish Speakers and Scattering-oriented Bene Gesserit, and formed the ultra-hostile Honored Matres.
During the Return of the Honored Matres to the Old Imperium, the Honored Matres, seeking revenge against all Tleilaxu males, attacked and decimated Tleilax; and the only known Tleilaxu Master survivor was the most junior Master Scytale. However, his possession of numerous individuals' genetic material (including that of many Tleilaxu) made it possible for him to recreate his culture. Additionally, the successful spread of the Tleilaxu that were sent out during The Scattering, made it possible that others survived in uncharted space, undiscovered by the Honored Matres. When some these returned to the Old Imperium, they were known as the Lost Ones, especially the Lost Tleilaxu.
The Matres also killed the elder Tleilaxu Master, Tylwyth Waff, as he was on Rakis when they attacked the planet with ultra-destructive Obliterator weapons. This caused wide-spread revulsion amongst the surviving Tleilaxu, as they considered the sandworms of Dune to contain an essence of the God Emperor, their Prophet.
Erasmus, Khrone, and the Enhanced Face Dancers
Separately, the Enhanced Face Dancers that were sent out by Ajidica millenia earlier were "found" by Omnius and Erasmus of the re-born Thinking Machine Empire. Erasmus, especially of the two, further changed the Dancers in three main ways.
First, he put in their genetic make-up a strong desire to be able to return and find their way back easily to Synchrony, capital of the Machine Empire. Second, he further improved their mimicking ability, such that they simply could not be detected by any means, except by the Whistling language of a Tleilaxu Master. Third, Erasmus, believing the ability to mimick and then having to kill the person their mimicking to be "evil", Erasmus installed a genetic "kill switch" at the base of each Enhanced Dancers cerebellum, as a "safety" back-up to protect Machine interests.
After these changes had been made, Erasmus sent the Enhanced Face Dancers, under their leader Khrone, back into human-space.
Burah and the Enhanced Face Dancers
Concurrently, as the Lost Tleilaxu returned into the Old Imperium, their remaining Tleilaxu council, led by the Elder Burah, came upon, and then thought themselves the masters of the Enhanced Face Dancers; but did not know that they were secretly under Machine control. As Burah sent out the Enhanced Dancers into the worlds of human-kind with the expressed intent of taking over key leadership positions amongst humanity; for a time the Enhanced Dancers pretended to be led by the old surviving Tleilaxu council. Khrone, who as a Dancer, himself feigned obeisance to the Tleilaxu Elders, but waited for the moment to rid himself of his Lost Tleilaxu leaders..
When the Face Dancers replaced the leadership of the Administrator branch of the Guild, the Honored Matres, the Bene Gesserit, CHOAM, and key leaders throughout humanity reached a point appointed by Erasmus; Khrone and the Enhanced Dancers rose up and killed the Tleilaxu Eldership, including Burah, replaced them with Enhanced Dancers, and kept only the Scribe Uxtal alive.
1st & 2nd Decade Aboard the Ithaca
At the same, and only known to his fellow escapees, the Tleilaxu Master Scytale, was aboard the no-ship, the Ithaca when Sheeana, Miles Teg, and Duncan Idaho spirited the vessel away from Chapterhouse. As was mentioned before, Scytale had the cells of various important humans contained in a nullentropy tube, that could create gholas. Sheeana and Idaho took control of the cells of the tube, in exchange for Scytale being allowed to create a ghola of himself as he was dying of cellular degeneration. The ghola replacement of Scytale did not have his memories awakened, until just after the elder Scytale died.
The Ithaca, in it's journeys, came across a planet where Enhanced Face Dancers controlled the entire world -- the Planet of the Handlers. The Handlers kept Futars, half-man/half-feline beings that were specially bred to hunt down and kill Honored Matres. On this planet, unknown to the crew of the ship, the ghola of Thufir Hawat and the Jewish Rabbi were killed, and replaced by Enhanced Face Dancers.
3rd Decade Aboard the Ithaca
Over the course of the next 6 years, the Dancers on the ship were went completely undetected, and caused sabotage. When Sheeana began to suspect that the Outside Enemy of the ship were Thinking Machines, she decided to create gholas of Xavier Harkonnen and Serena Butler. The Dancers on the ship killed both gholas, and were able to defray the blame off of themselves.
After 26 years of the ship having journeyed throughout Known Space, the Dancers secretly destroyed food systems, water purifiers, and finally placed mines around the no-ship's hull. As tensions increased on the ship, one of the Dancers was killed by the ship's sandworms; and the other sabotaged the engines and signaled the Thinking Machines. Even though the Dancer was killed by Alia, the ship was still taken by force to Synchrony, as the day of Kralizec approached.
Uxtal and Waff
At the same time, Uxtal was commissioned by Khrone, and Uxtal reluctantly agreed to create gholas of the great Tleilaxu Master Tylwyth Waff. As his brothers were systematically killed by the Matre leader Hellica, the last ghola of Waff had his memories awakened only partially and imperfectly.
When Murbella and the Valkyries of the New Sisterhood attacked Bandalong, Uxtal did not escape, and became trapped by a slig, and eaten alive. Waff wandered the wreckage, and stumbled upon Guild representatives who had transported the Sisterhood. Waff promised the Guild Navigator Edrik new sources of spice if he would transport him off the world, which he did.
Seaworms and Return to Dune
This led to what is considered by many to be the greatest creation by the Tleilaxu, the Seaworm. Seaworms are genetically altered sandworms which thrive, instead of imploding, in water. Waff created the seaworms after 3 years and planted them into the oceans of Buzzell, where they dominated the eco-system of the world. The seaworms, when cut open, produced a rich super-potent cache of melange, called Ultraspice.
Once this success happened, Waff began what he considered his life's work -- restoring genetically-armored sandworms to Rakis. Waff took the altered sandworms back to Rakis, and released them into the fused soil of the Dune planet, and tracked them with monitors.
Changelings in the Imperium
The Enhanced Face Dancers were active and replaced human leadership all over the Imperium as the Thinking Machines attacked human-kind. They were on the worlds that were devastated first by the Machine Fleet and the Omnius Scourge attacked human-kind. As the Machines advanced; the Dancers, mimicking humans, promoted abject submission to the Machine invaders.
The Dancers were also involved in the shipyard production areas where Starships were being produced for human-kind in the upcoming final battles and war. The Dancers sabotaged the construction of ships, slowing production; and the ships that did make it were of inferior quality, and turned out not to work when needed. The Dancers also sabotaged production of the Obliterator weapon, depriving the human fleet a valuable weapon as they prepared for a last-ditch effort in the heart of the Old Imperium.
The Day of Kralizec
The great day at the end of the age occurred, Kralizec. Above the skies of Chapterhouse and Junction, human-kind made a last ditch stand against the advancing Machine fleet. Enhanced Face Dancers ensured that none of human-kind's weapons, and many of the ships malfunctioned, when the first wave of Thinking Machine ships entered the fray. It was only the intervention of the Oracle of Time which destroyed the first Machine wave.
As the Ithaca crew was lead to the heart of Synchrony, the Cathedral, the Dancers acted as bodyguards and sentinels for the Thinking Machine leaders. Scytale remained behind on the ship with Sheeana and Leto II, and released nerve gas into Synchrony, and killed many of the Machine-led Enhanced Dancers.
As the day went on, Paul and Paolo dueled and the battle proved to be inconclusive. When Paul self-healed himself after the near-fatal duel, he proclaimed that Duncan Idaho was the long-awaited super-being, or Ultimate Kwisatz Haderach. The Oracle then appeared, declared that what Paul had said was true, and then summarily banished Omnius to an alternate universe.
Khrone then spoke that the time of Face Dancer hegemony had arrived. He declared that since machines and humans had battled themselves to near-destruction; and that Face Dancers now occupied most of the positions of authority in the Old Imperium, that Face Dancers would now take their rightful place.
Erasmus then activated the tachyon net, and in a scope of a few minutes, activated the "kill switch" in each and every Enhanced Face Dancer in the galaxies. Hundreds of millions of Enhanced Dancers died instantly throughout the cosmos, ending their threat forever.
The new proclaimed Evermind/super-being, Duncan Idaho, caused peace to happen between humanity and machine. Erasmus bonded with Idaho, died, and went into Idaho's Other Memory. Duncan then gave Synchrony to the Thinking Machines, to the Bene Gesserit, and to Scytale and the Tleilaxu; for the three jointly administer in the new age.
Waff on the planet Arrakis was at first saddened as the sandworms that he had placed on the surface of Rakis, ended up dead, and could not adapt to the new conditions of the planet. This quickly turned to joy as rumblings from deep with in the surface quickly showed to be worms that had survived the over 40 years since the Matre attack. Waff gave his degenerating body to the worms as food, as he declared the return of his Prophet.
During the Butlerian Jihad
Originally trade also formed an important part of their culture. However, following revelations of their organ harvesting methods during the Butlerian Jihad they became collectively scorned and despised. This, coupled with active persecution against them, caused their trading connections to be dramatically reduced, and led to a significant change in their overall attitude to the wider universe.
Tleilaxu merchants grew a long braid; the braid symbolizes prosperity -- a merchant must cut his braid if he were to experience an unsuccessful year. Tleilaxu also sharpened their teeth.
The Tleilaxu were an inherently isolationist culture that was dominated by a strict hierarchy and an overriding religious zeal. They had long focused their efforts on genetics, and the pursuit of spiritual elevation through physical refinement.
The Tleilaxu were separated into several different classes, each of which had a distinct physical appearance and role within their society. The main groups were:
- Tleilaxu Masters: Physically they looked similar to small humans, most often with small close-set eyes and a set of small pointed teeth.
- Axlotl Tanks: Little more than incubation vessels, this class bred all Tleilaxu, as well as other beings (such as gholas). It is believed these were what remain of the female sex of the Tleilaxu.
- Face Dancers: The warrior and worker class, who were capable of adapting their physical appearance to a specific task at hand. Their doppelganger ability was also used to perform espionage against other groups.
- Enhanced Face Dancers:
The Tleilaxu followed a strict and fervent spiritual ideology that derived itself from both the Zensunni and the Zensufi theologies. As with most cultures within the Known Universe, their faith was monotheistic. While they did not place significant importance on the Giant Sandworm, they did credit great importance to Leto Atreides II, who they saw as "God's Messenger".
The details of their religion remained largely hidden until the arrival of the Honored Matres, at which point the leadership of the Bene Gesserit, one of their great rivals, discovered some key posits of their faith.
List of Known Tleilaxu by Class
Ambassadors and Envoys
Elders, Traders, Scientists, and Scribes
In addition to their biological classes, Tleilaxu society and structure was strictly organized by rank.
- Mahai or Abdl: the Master of Masters, leader of the Tleilaxu
- Masheikh: rulers chosen from the Master class
- Khasadar: guards and combat-ready personnel
- Domel: domestic servants and low-level personnel
Behind the Scenes
The true reason for the revulsion of the Bene Tleilax was not cataloged by Frank Herbert. The organ harvesting plot of League of Nobles fighters during the Butlerian Jihad/XD was outlined by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson in their Legends of Dune prequel novels.
In Dune: House Atreides it is general knowledge that the Tleilaxu are religious fanatics, however in Heretics of Dune this fact is a major revelation for the Bene Gesserit. The same is true when the nature of the Axlotl tanks are revealed in House Corrino.