Thanks for the informative post. One comment: your speculation a paste error causing the missing first line of the catted .odbc.ini file was correct (I've updated the original post to add it). This is why the isql command succeeded.
Furthermore, the original problem using the curly braces as quoting syntax was (again as you point out) the "DRIVER" keyword needs to be capitalized (one of the case variations I did not try). When I fixed that the original version of simple.pl started working.
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