Duke Leto Atreides I (10140 AG - 10191 AG), sometimes called Leto the Just or the Red Duke, was the twentieth duke of House Atreides and the father of Emperor Paul Atreides and Regent Alia Atreides with Bene Gesserit concubine, Lady Jessica. Well known for his even-handed and compassionate leadership style, Leto ruled over Caladan, and later Arrakis, all while at war with the powerful Baron Harkonnen.
Leto Atreides I was a tall man with olive skin and long black hair. He had a narrow face full of angles and planes, with a high-bridged aquiline nose that gave him the look of a hawk, and woodsmoke in his gray eyes.
Migration to Arrakis
"Here I am, here I remain!"
After almost two decades of rule on Caladan with the Lady Jessica, Leto was ordered by the Emperor to take over the planetary fief of Arrakis from House Harkonnen, and thus was required to move his House from Caladan to 'Dune'. Arrakis was a notoriously difficult planet to manage, but as the only source of the spice melange, it was also unimaginably important. Thus the role brought both jeopardy and the jealousy of Leto's fellow noblemen among the Great Houses. Thus, Leto leapt at the chance to increase his standing in the Landsraad, even though he knew it would also put his House in great peril. Leto committed all his resources to the venture, and it was said that to illustrate this point to his people and the people of Arrakis, that upon his arrival he planted a flag upon the battlements at Arrakeen and proclaimed: "Here I am, here I remain!"
Leto's resolve was strengthened by a letter the Emperor had sent him upon his Arrival on Arrakis. Addressed to his "Noble Duke", the letter outlined that Leto was given House Corrino's full support to introduce and uphold the rule of the Faufreluches. This letter served to illustrate Corrino duplicity, for at the same time, Shaddam IV was plotting Leto's demise.
During consolidation of his rule over Arrakis, Leto made a quick and positive impact on the people of Dune. His fairhandedness, political savvy, and personal charisma saw many in Arrakeen society, from the Fremen to the aristocratic Houses Minor, become supporters. However, only a short while into Leto's rule on Dune, the Emperor gave Baron Vladimir Harkonnen approval to invade and destroy House Atreides, even going so far as to provide some of his own Sardaukar in support. The Emperor's urgency in disposing of House Atreides was amplified by the fact that he had come to know that the Duke Leto had managed to develop a small force of soldiers capable of rivalling the Emperor's Sardaukar. This had been accomplished through Leto's principal advisors and generals, namely Thufir Hawat, Duncan Idaho, and Gurney Halleck.
During the invasion Leto was betrayed by his private Suk Doctor, Wellington Yueh, and turned over to the Harkonnens. Though Yueh had given Leto the chance to kill the Baron Harkonnen using a poisoned tooth embedded in the Duke's mouth, the scheme failed. Consequently Leto died during the assassination attempt, but the Baron Harkonnen survived - although his twisted mentat Piter de Vries was killed by the poison.
Some years later, Leto's remains were recovered by his son Paul in Arrakeen. Paul laid his father's remains to rest in the Skull Tomb in the desert of Arrakis. The late Duke's legacy was felt in Paul's reign as Emperor, and also in the conception of a daughter Alia, carried by Jessica but only discovered after Leto's death.
In some ways, Leto lived on in his son Paul and grandson Leto II, through their possession of Other Memory. It was also partially Leto's love for Duncan Idaho that saw Leto II maintain a series of Idaho gholas throughout his reign. During both Paul's and Leto II's reign, millions flocked to visit Leto I's shrine, since Atreides ancestry had taken on a religious mystique. More than this however, Leto came to symbolise all that was good about the Atreides bloodline, namely courage, integrity, loyalty, justice, and honour. Because of this some have postulated that had Leto survived his rule of Arrakis, he would have eventually commanded the same fanaticism of the Fremen with which they came to follow his son Paul. Indeed, some have taken this argument further and postulated that his popularity with those he ruled, combined with his popularity in the Landsraad, may have seen him eventually ascend to the Golden Lion Throne. Thus, the positive strength of character and many talents Leto was generally regarded to possess, and the possibilities of what might have been, illustrates the inherent tragedy of his story.
Behind the Scenes
Alejandro Jorodowski wanted the late actor David Carradine to portray Leto Areides I in his unsuccessful attempt to produce a film adaptation of Dune. Jodorowski became interested in Carradine for the role after watching his series Kung Fu. When they met, the director reportedly passed him a bottle of Vitamin E pills and told him to "take one every day". Carradine swallowed the pills immediately and Jodorowski knew he was "the person I am serching for".
Alejandro Jodorowski has stated that he also considered himself for the role, especially given that his son, Brontis, was to have the role of Paul.
Leto Atreides was portrayed by German actor Jurgen Prochnow in the 1984 film adaptation of Dune.
In the 2000 Dune Miniseries, he was portrayed by actor William Hurt.
In the 2021 film adaptation of Dune, he was portrayed by actor Oscar Isaac.