He was born at Padua, of a noble but impoverished family. At the University of Padua his literary progress gained him the chair of rhetoric, and in 1768 the professorship of Greek and Hebrew. On the invasion of Italy by the French, he wrote in support of their cause, received a pension, and was made knight of the iron crown by Napoleon I, to whom, in consequence, he addressed a bombastic and extravagantly flattering poem called Pronea.
Cesarotti is best known as the translator of Homer and Ossian. He also produced a less-than-faithful version of the Iliad. Ossian, which he held to be the finest of poems, he has, on the other hand, considerably improved in translation; and the appearance of his version attracted much attention in Italy and France, and raised up many imitators of the Ossianic style. Napoleon particularly admired the work.
Cesarotti also produced several prose works, including a Course of Greek Literature, and essays On the Origin and Progress of the Poetic Art, On the Sources of the Pleasure derived from Tragedy, On the Philosophy of Language and On the Philosophy of Taste, the last being a defence of his own great eccentricities in criticism. His style is full of Gallicisms.
A complete edition of his works, in 42 vols. 8vo, began to appear at Pisa in 1800, and was completed in 1813, after his death.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cesarotti, Melchiore". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press This work in turn cites:
- Barbieri, Memoirs (Padua, 1810)
- Alemanni, Un Filosofo delle lettere (Turin, 1894)