The Punic Passages in the Poenulus
In several Plautine comedies Greek words and phrases occur, and although even early Latin already had a plethora of nativized Greek loans, many of the Greek words and phrases in comedy are clearly to be considered foreign. Nevertheless, the majority of people in the audience will have understood such Greek elements without difficulty, which allows Plautus to create his own Greek puns. Knowledge of other foreign languages could not be presupposed, which explains why Plautus generally does not employ them in his plays, even for comic effect.1 The exception is the Poenulus, where a large amount of Punic is spoken, mostly by Hanno, but to a lesser extent also by other characters. There are two large texts in ll. 930–39 and ll. 940–49, both spoken by Hanno, and there are fifteen very short pieces between l. 994 and l. 1152.
Apart perhaps from some sailors and merchants, who may have had a basic command of the language, few people in the
- 1 An exception occurs in the Caecus uel Praedones fr. 10, where a man says mu in answer to a question and is immediately identified as an Afer. Afer can refer to any African, but it also specifically indicates a Carthaginian. If Plautus has not simply made up the word in order to make fun of the foreigner, it could be the Punic question word mu, “what” (see my comments on l. 1010).