In Paradise Lost, book one, what general purpose do lines 337-522 serve?
These lines describe the angels who joined Satan in his rebellion against God and were subsequently cast into Hell. Milton asserts that these same fallen angels became the false gods worshiped by pagan cultures before they began to worship the one true God of Christianity. Seeking revenge against God for their defeat, these beings posed as gods to humanity and led them to commit atrocities. For example, lines 477-481
A crew who under Names of old Renown,
Osiris, Isis, Orus and their Train
With monstrous shapes and sorceries abus'd
Fanatic Egypt and her Priests, to seek [ 480 ]
Thir wandring Gods disguis'd in brutish forms
Rather then human.
Milton identifies the gods worshiped by ancient Egyptians, who often took animal shapes, attributing the decline of the Egyptian civilization to their influence.
In the lines immediately after this passage (lines 480 to 482), Milton turns to events in the Old Testament:
Nor did Israel scape
Th' infection when thir borrow'd Gold compos'd
The Calf in Oreb
When the Israelites are traveling in the desert in order to reach the promised land, some of the people lose faith in their God and build a golden calf to worship as a false idol.
By referring both to events in the Old Testament and the history of various ancient civilizations, Milton attempts to create a synthesis of Christian theology and secular humanist history. He uses many of the same techniques employed in Greco-Roman epics, such as the Iliad and Odyssey. However, he maintains that his epic is far superior to those who came before, because his is in service of the Christian God, next to whom all other deities are both inferior and evil.