Conductus ad tabulam: Orientis Partibus – Song of the Ass

Orientis partibus is a playful hymn addressed to an ass. It comes from a liturgy for the Feast of the Circumcision, which was later known as the Feast of Fools, from the Church of Sens in France in the 1200s.(MS. 46 of the Bibliothèque Municipale de Sens)It was sung in numerous medieval Christmastide pageants which featured the ass who bore Our Lady to Egypt; however, in this version, an additional stanza makes it clear it is addressed to the ass who bore the magi to Bethlehem. It is presumed that the layfolk sang the refrain, Hez, sir Asne, hez; the only words in the vernacular in this liturgy.

The music can be rhythmically interpreted in 4 or in 3. 

Here are the lyrics with an English translation:

1) Orientis partibus          
adventavit asinus
pulcher et fortissimus 
sarcinis aptissimus
Hez, Sir Asne, Hez!

In eastern lands 
the ass arrived
pretty and so strong
fit for burden
Hail, Sir Ass, Hail!

2) Hic in collibus Sychen
iam nutritus sub Ruben
transiit per Jordanem
saliit in Bethlehem
Hez, Sir Asne, Hez! 

Here in the hills of Sychen,
already suckled below the Ruben,
he crosses the Jordan;
he enters Bethlehem.
Hail, Sir Ass, Hail!

3) Saltu vincit hinnulos
damas et capreolos
super dromedarios
velox madianeos
Hez, Sir Asne, Hez!

In his leaps he conquers the mules,
the fallow deer and roebucks
and surpasses the fast
camels of the Medes.
Hail, Sir Ass, Hail! 

4) Aurum de Arabia, 
Thus et myrrham de Sabba 
Tulit in ecclesia 
Virtus asinaria.
Hez, Sir Asne, Hez!

Gold from Arabia,
Incense and myrrh from Sabba,
bore to the church
this virtuous ass.
Hail, Sir Ass, Hail!

5) Dum trahit vehicula
multa cum sarcinula
illius mandibula
dura terit pabula
Hez, Sir Asne, Hez!

While he pulls carts,
many with heavy loads,
his jaws
grind tough fodder.
Hail, Sir Ass, Hail!

6) Cum aristis, hordeum
comedit et carduum
triticum ex palea
segregat in area
Hez, Sir Asne, Hez.

He eats barley, beards and all,
and spiny thistles.
He separates the wheat from the chaff
on the threshing floor.
Hail, Sir Ass, Hail!

7) Amen dicas, asine
Iam satur ex gramine
amen, amen itera
aspernare vetera
Hez, Sir Asne, Hez.

You say “amen”, ass,
all filled with grass
“amen, amen” once again,
spurning the past.
Hail, Sir Ass, Hail!

Sheet music with both rhythmic interpretations:

This version alternates between the rhythmic interpretations

About jhkob

A music hobbyist making medieval and Renaissance music transcriptions available for non-profit non-commercial purposes. Have fun!
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