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Monti was born in Alfonsine, Province of Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna the son of Fedele and Domenica Maria Mazzari, landowners. He was educated at the seminar in Faenza and at the University of Ferrara, where he studied medicine and jurisprudence.
In 1775 he is admitted to membership in the Arcadia Academy and the next year his first book is published: "La visione di Ezechiello" ("Ezechiello's vision").
In 1778 Monti moves to Rome, invited there by cardinal and papal legate in Ferrara, Scipione Borghese. He marries Teresa Pichler who bears him a daughter, Costanza, and a son, Francesco (the latter dies at only two years old). Through her the singer Fanny Eckerlin is his niece.
In 1797 he leaves Rome and, after visiting Bologna and Venice, finally settles in Milan, forsaking his former opposition to the French Revolution (expressed in the "Bassvilliana") and becoming a supporter of the newborn Cisalpine Republic.
In 1799, he is forced to leave the city when the French are defeated, but it takes him only two years to come back, following the Battle of Marengo (1800).
While in Paris, Monti devotes more and more of his time to translations from French and Latin, which today are considered to be his best works: he publishes "La Pucelle d'Orleans" by Voltaire, soon to be followed by the "Satire" by Persio and the "Iliade" (Iliad) by Homer.
After the fall of Napoleon in 1815, Monti tries to win back the Austrian regime with his last poems "Il mistico omaggio" and "Il ritorno di Astrea", before committing to the development of Italian linguistics during his last years.
Many authors have given different opinions about the poet's value. Two factors are generally agreed upon, but they are given different weight yielding a more or less favourable judgement: the lack of ideals and authenticity, and the superior technical skills.
In the fast-changing political scenario of his time, Monti appears not to live up to his ideals: he is blamed from the political point of view for being first an opposer to the French revolution, then an open supporter of Napoleon, then eventually a supporter of the Austrian Empire. Furthermore, he is accused of expressing insincere feelings in his works and of only caring about the formal aspects of his productions.
In a time of strong political ideals such as the "Risorgimento" and strong interior passions such as Romanticism, famous representatives of Italian literature such as Ugo Foscolo and Giacomo Leopardi pointed to these as unforgivable flaws, whereas in their opinion a poet should never give up his beliefs in exchange for practical advantages, and should prefer a worthy content over a much refined literary technique.
- 1776 – "La visione di Ezechiello"
- 1779 – "Prosopopea di Pericle" (ode) and "Saggio di poesie"
- 1781 – "La bellezza dell'universo" (short poem)
- 1782 – "Sciolti a Sigismondo Chigi" and "Pensieri d'amore"
- 1783 – "Versi"
- 1784 – "Al signor di Montgolfier" (ode)
- 1787 – "Aristodemo" (tragedy)
- 1788 – "Galeotto Manfredi"
- 1793 – "Bassvilliana"/"In morte di Ugo di Bassville" (left unfinished)
- 1797 – "La Musogonia" and "Prometeo"
- 1800 – "Poesie", "Dopo la battaglia di Marengo", and translation of Voltaire's "La Pucelle d'Orléans" -> "La pulcella d'Orleans"
- 1802 – "Mascheroniana"/"In morte di Lorenzo Mascheroni" (poem) and "Caio Gracco" (tragedy)
- 1803 – translation: "Satire" (Persio)
- 1805 – "Alla maestà di Napoleone"
- 1806 – "Il bardo della Selva Nera", translated into French by Jacques-Marie Deschamps (le Barde de la Forêt-Noire, 1807)
- 1810 – translation: "Iliade" (Homer)
- 1815 – "Il mistico omaggio"
- 1816 – "Il ritorno di Astrea"
- 1825 – "Sulla mitologia"
- 1817–1826 – "Proposta di alcune correzioni ed aggiunte al Vocabolario della Crusca"