The question of why Seneca wrote tragedy has been debated at least since the 13th century. Since Seneca was a Stoic, critics have assumed that he must have written with the standard Stoic theory of literature as education in philosophy in mind. Seneca and the Idea of Tragedy argues instead that Seneca was influenced by Aristotle's famous defense of tragedy against Plato's critique. When Renaissance scholars applied Aristotle's theory of tragedy to Seneca and found him to be a model tragedian, they were taking the correct approach, one which has since been discounted since Aristotle's Poetics was presumed to have been unknown during Seneca's lifetime. Staley shows that Aristotle's ideas about poetry influenced the Stoics through channels other than the Poetics and that Aristotle's idea of tragedy was adopted by Seneca in a Stoic guise.

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