The Mysterious Trail of a Treasure, Retraced

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The trail led from New York to Geneva. Geneva to Zurich. Zurich to Rome. Rome to Beirut. Beirut to an Italian village. And back to New York.

The cast of characters read like a list from "The Maltese Falcon" or a novel by Eric Ambler.

There was an art dealer of dubious reputation, a Levantine of unreliable memory, Italian grave robbers known as tombaroli, and the illustrious curators and museum directors who seemed above suspicion.

At the root of everything seethed lust. Lust for timeless beauty. Lust for wealth. The object of desire? A 2,500-year-old Greek vase known as the Euphronios krater.

On Thursday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, reversing a position held for 30 years, agreed to relinquish ownership of the vase to Italy, where the authorities have long said that it was stolen from an Etruscan tomb near Rome and smuggled from the country.

"It's about time," said Nicholas Gage, who followed the trail of the vase as an investigative reporter for The New York Times when the story broke.

The year was 1973.

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