A prominent middle Eocene warming event is identified in Southern Ocean deep-sea cores, indicating that long-term cooling through the middle and late Eocene was not monotonic. At sites on Maud Rise and the Kerguelen Plateau, a distinct negative shift in δ18O values (∼1.0‰) is observed ca. 41.5 Ma. This excursion is interpreted as primarily a temperature signal, with a transient warming of 4 °C over 600 k.y. affecting both surface and middle-bathyal deep waters in the Indian-Atlantic region of the Southern Ocean. This isotopic event is designated as the middle Eocene climatic optimum, and is interpreted to represent a significant climatic reversal in the midst of middle to late Eocene deep-sea cooling. The lack of a significant negative carbon isotope excursion, as observed during the Paleocene–Eocene thermal maximum, and the gradual rate of high-latitude warming suggest that this event was not triggered by methane hydrate dissociation. Rather, a transient rise in pCO2 levels is suspected, possibly as a result of metamorphic decarbonation in the Himalayan orogen or increased ridge/arc volcanism during the late middle Eocene.