(8) Indeed the strongest ethnic jokes appear in dramatic contexts where Hanno fails to conform to anticipated Punic ethnic behaviors and, in fact, often behaves like a stereotypical Roman.
he doesn't understand: he's pure Punic. Need I say more?
The prologus accepts as fact that the old Carthaginian would be a randy womanizer and a born trickster, longstanding stereotypes of Phoenicians and their Punic descendants.
A nasty pimp and a unique Punic senex should heighten audience interest and expectations for some funny ethnic slurs that will match what they anticipate from a Carthaginian onstage.
After the prologue prepares the audience to accept the expected and unexpected in a Punic senex, Carthage goes unmentioned again until line 900.
(19) But even more distinctive are his opening lines--a pious prayer and introduction of his case--in Punic. (20) Significantly, Hanno invokes the local gods (deos deasque veneror qui hanc urbem colunt, 950) to help him find his daughters and nephew, and, though this is clear in the Latin text of Hanno's words, all recognizable Punic words in the received manuscripts suggest that his Punic speech also expresses a similar prayer to the gods of Calydon.
Despite scholarly objections that the Latin version of the speech would be dramatically unnecessary, redundant, and unsatisfactory after the Punic, (22) I believe a Latin translation for the local audience and gods is not only perfectly actable but, in fact, preferable to a purely Punic introduction.
My audience heard Hanno pray in Bostonian English (our equivalent for the Punic), then repeat in Latin.
Despite the presence of some reasonably accurate Punic in this first prayer, I question whether Plautus spent time on his Punic passages in order for the audience to understand it word for word.
While Milphio is laughing at Hanno's appearance, Hanno, who has overheard these two talking about some freeborn Carthaginian girls, announces his intention to approach them while speaking his native Punic (982-84).
At last, Milphio offers to speak Punic, saying, nullus me est hodie Poenus Poenior ("Today nobody's a Punickier Punic than me!" 991), which first suggests his language skill (a skill that turns out to be less than minimal).
Milphio's translations quickly devolve into mistranslations, then complete misrepresentations that play on Latin words sounding like portions of Han-no's Punic. This exchange (994-1028), easily the funniest scene in the play, becomes a clever word-play that doubles as an ethnic joke on Carthaginians as rich, sly merchants (mercator, 1016).
Milphio creates a clever play on Hanno's words, especially in his snake image for Punic bilingualism, i.e., Hanno's ability to speak in fork-tongued doubletalk.
But Milphio still smells a trick: praestrigiator hic quidem Poenus probust; perduxit omnis ad suam sententiam ("This Punic's a proven prankster; he's got them all on his side," 1125-26).